Anti-Abortion Extremists Suffer Major Court Defeat
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled unanimously in favor of National Organization for Women (NOW) in NOW v. Scheidler, the civil case where anti-abortion extremists were found to have conspired to illegally close women’s reproductive health clinics, using threats and extortionate acts against doctors, clinic employees and patients, in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The decision is a major victory for the plaintiffs, NOW, Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal who, as president of NOW in 1986, initiated the case, two clinics in Delaware and Milwaukee owned by Susan Hill who is president of the National Women’s Health Organization, and clinics and pro-choice supporters everywhere. The attorneys involved, led by Faye Clayton of Robinson, Curley and Clayton, were assisted during the appeal by Feminist Majority Foundation’s Legal Director at the time, Sara N. Love.
“After fifteen long years, this is an unequivocal victory against the reign of terror at our nations’ clinics. It could not have happened at a better time. Both domestic terrorists and global terrorists must get the message: the United States has zero tolerance for the use of violence to determine public policy,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
The Court found that the repeated assaults by Scheidler et. al. and those acting in concert with them, including restraining clinic workers and patients, entering clinics and destroying medical equipment and blocking doorways and entrances to clinics, were violations of the Hobbs Act and RICO. The Seventh Circuit upheld the nationwide injunction put in place by the lower court that prohibits any of the plaintiffs from obstructing access to clinics, damaging clinic property, or using force or threats of force against clinics, employees, staff, and patients.
The Court rejected Scheidler’s defense that its actions were protected by the First Amendment stating “the record is replete with evidence of instances in which their conduct crossed the line from protected speech to illegal acts, including acts of violence.” Further, the Court stated that letters sent by Joseph Scheidler, a key anti-abortion extremist, to clinics promising assaults if the clinic remained open “constituted true threats outside the protection of the First Amendment.” Because the defendants were board members of the same organization, participated in the planning of assaults, and wrote letters in support of such acts, the Court found that the organization itself, not simply isolated members, had illegal aims.
This litigation began before the enactment of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and extremists like Scheidler terrorized abortion clinics without fear of federal law enforcement intervention. NOW decided that a litigation strategy was essential to stop these attacks and began this case. In these fifteen years, NOW’s novel legal strategy was challenged repeatedly; NOW attorney Clayton, successfully defended all attacks, including in the Supreme Court.
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10/31/2014 Women of Color in Tennessee Are United in Opposition to Amendment 1 - Just days before the general election in Tennessee, a coalition of community leaders, clergy, and advocates led a press conference encouraging women of color to vote no on Amendment 1, a dangerous and far-reaching measure on the state's ballot.
SisterReach, a grassroots organization focused on "empowering, organizing, and mobilizing women and girls in the community around their reproductive and sexual health to make informed decisions about themselves," organized the press conference "to call attention to the unique concerns Black and poor communities throughout Shelby County and across the state of Tennessee face on a daily basis" and to emphasize how the upcoming election "could further limit [black women's] reproductive, economic, political, and social autonomy."
"We assemble today to impress upon black women and women of color, many of whom are heads of households, to get out and vote," said SisterReacher Founder and CEO Cherisse Scott at the event.
SisterReach has been educating voters about the particularly dangerous impact of Amendment 1 on women of color. . . .
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The Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, together with a local abortion clinic in Tulsa, challenged HB 2684 in September, arguing that the law was an unconstitutional restriction on non-surgical abortion in the earliest weeks of pregnancy. . . .