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feminist wire | daily newsbriefs

February-28-06

Supreme Court Ruling Could Imperil Women's Health Clinics

Arlington, VA – The Supreme Court today issued an 8-0 decision in two related cases (Scheidler, et al, v National Organization for Women (NOW), et al and Operation Rescue v NOW, et al), lifting a nationwide injunction protecting virtually all women's health clinics in the nation. Two clinics of the National Women’s Health Organization (NWHO) joined NOW in taking this class action case, which represented virtually all women’s health clinics as well as all women who could potentially be patients of these clinics.

This case, as the lower federal courts have determined, was about illegal violence against women’s health care centers, not peaceful protests or demonstrations. After a lengthy trial, a federal district court found a nationwide pattern of illegal activity and violence aimed at women’s health clinics and abortion providers. In its decision today, the Supreme Court ignored this pattern of violence, instead deciding the case on narrow, technical grounds.

“I initiated this case almost 20 years ago as the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) to stop the reign of terror perpetrated by anti-abortion extremists at clinics across the country. I believe that this lawsuit and its resulting nationwide injunction significantly contributed to reducing the level of violence at clinics. I only hope that the loss of the injunction does not embolden anti-abortion extremists to escalate domestic terrorism towards women’s reproductive health clinics,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

“Anti-abortion extremists, however, should not look at this as a great legal victory. State, local, and federal laws are now in place, such as the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, that have helped to dramatically reduce the level of violence against clinics. Law enforcement officials have made it clear that violence will not be tolerated at our nation’s clinics and that domestic terrorists will be arrested and prosecuted,” Smeal continued.

“We did all we could over the years to reduce violence at clinics. We used every legal tool available. Pursuing this case did reduce violence at clinics, and we cannot allow anti-abortion extremists to take this decision as a signal to once again increase violent activity aimed at clinics and clinic staff,” said Susan Hill, president of the National Women’s Health Organization, the owner of the two named clinics in the lawsuit.

“Unfortunately, we know that following the loss in 1993 of the Bray v. Alexandria Supreme Court decision, violence against abortion providers did escalate. Women’s health clinics and pro-choice advocacy groups must now be more vigilant than ever to prevent increased anti-abortion clinic violence,” said Katherine Spillar, executive vice president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

“This decision comes at an inauspicious time, as legislators across the country are cutting access to abortion services, and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving a federal abortion procedure ban, further embattling women’s health clinics,” Smeal continued.

###

The Feminist Majority Foundation runs the oldest and largest clinic defense program in the nation, defending the nation’s some 587 independent clinics.

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