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feminist wire | daily newsbriefs

April-20-98

Landmark Won! Civil RICO Case Cracks Anti-Abortion Ring of Conspiracy

National Feminist Leader Eleanor Smeal Calls for Use of Criminal RICO to End Violence

Washington DC -- Today, in Chicago, Illinois, a federal jury handed down the precedent-setting decision in the class action RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act) lawsuit, NOW v. Scheidler. This case, originally filed in 1986 when Eleanor Smeal was National President of NOW, was brought in an attempt to end increasing violence, harassment, and intimidation at family planning and abortion clinics nationwide.
Smeal, currently the President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, commented on the national significance of today's decision saying:

"Today, pro-choice forces, after 12 years of litigation, have proven in civil court for the first time that there is a nationwide organized conspiracy to illegally close family planning, abortion, and women's reproductive health clinics. We hope today's decision will embolden federal law enforcement to take a criminal RICO case to shut down the anti-abortion reign of terror once and for all.

For over ten years, we have been telling federal law enforcement that there is an organized campaign of terror being waged against clinics and doctors providing family planning and abortion services. In 1986, we took this case to do all we could as citizens to prevent bloodshed and violence at women's reproductive health clinics nationwide. Ironically, we decided to take this case after the anti-abortion extremist invasion of the Pensacola health clinic where later Dr. John Bayard Britton and clinic escort Colonel James Barrett were murdered.

Finally, after twelve years, we have cracked the violent anti-abortion conspiracy to close abortion clinics, but we will not stop here. We intend to urge federal law enforcement to use criminal RICO and go after each and every one of the anti-abortion extremists who engage in violence and illegal activity to attain their goal of denying women their constitutional right to abortion."

Smeal, commenting on the national impact of the class action lawsuit, said:

"This decision indicates a turning of the anti-abortion violent tide for unsung heroes like Susan Hill, President of the class plaintiff National Women's Health Organization, which represents a class of over 900 women's health clinics nationwide. Every day Hill and her clinics face some of the most severe anti-abortion extremism in the United States. To date, her clinics have been a primary target of anti-abortion terrorism resulting in 15 arsons/bombings, massive harassment leading to over 2,000 arrests, and the murder of one of their providers, Dr. David Gunn."

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