Feminist Majority Foundation Chat Series of 2003
Sharyn Tejani, FMF Legal Director
March 27, 2003 on "Clinic Safety After
NOW v. Scheidler"
Moderator: Welcome Sharyn Tejani, Feminist Majority Foundation Legal Director. Thank you for taking some time today to discuss abortion clinic safety after NOW v. Scheidler.
Sharyn Tejani: On February 26, 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court released its decision in NOW v. Scheidler. This historic anti-abortion violence case was started by Eleanor Smeal, current President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, when she was
president of the National Organization of Women (NOW). The jury, district judge, and court of appeals all found that the anti-abortion extreminists had committed acts of extortion in their efforts to shut down clinics and
supported an injunction to keep these defendants from using force or violence to close clinics. The Supreme Court, in 2003, reversed those
decisions and 50 years of extortion law and ruled that in order for something to be extortion, the person has to walk away with property.
Anti-abortion extremists have used this case to call on their supporters to increase their presence outside of clinics. However, since the case was originally brought, the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) act has become law. FACE prohibits blockading clinics.
Disturbingly, violence against clinics seems to be increasing. FMF just released its 2002 clinic violence survey. For the first time since
1993-1994, clinics reported and increase in severe violence. The survey is
available at http://www.feminist.org/rrights/clinicsurvey.html
Madeline: Why do you think that abortion is a political issue where men are the ones arguing about it and making the laws and what can we do to change that?
Sharyn Tejani: Abortion rights for women mean women can control their bodies and their
lives. Even the Supreme Court has recognized this stating "[t]he ability of
women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation
has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives."
The right to abortion stems from the right to birth control--another medical
advancement that has helped women control their own lives. Those who oppose
abortion are opposing women's equality and the idea that women can control
their own lives.
What can we do so that it is not just men arguing about this issue? Vote,
run for office, support candidates (male and female) that support a woman's
right to safe, legal abortion and birth control.
Jen: How are pro choice and women's rights groups preparing for a future SCOTUS nominee?
Sharyn Tejani: It is very likely that there will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court this
summer. The replacement of just one justice could mean that Roe v. Wade is
overruled--we won the last abortion rights case by a razor thin 5-4
majority. During his campaign, President Bush promised to nominate judges
in the mold of Scalia and Thomas--two of the most anti-abortion rights
judges on the Court.
FMF has launched its "Never Go Back" campaign to raise awareness about the
perilous situation facing abortion rights. You can find more information
about the Never Go Back campaign on our website, www.feminist.org.
Julie: I realize that the Now v. Scheidler decision is a defeat for pro-abortion rights supporters. I see the recent Kopp sentence as a victory. What do you think?
Sharyn Tejani: While the conviction of James Kopp was very important to the reproductive rights community, the network that we believe supported and assisted Kopp from when he begain his shootings to his capture has not yet been brought to justice. So while the Kopp conviction is a victory, more needs to be done.
What made NOW v. Scheidler so important is that it allowed us to go after those who planned the blockades as well as those who carried them out--in other words we were able to get at a network.
Mary: What is the background to NOW v. Scheidler? Where did the case begin, before it got to the Supreme Court?
Sharyn Tejani: The case was brought by NOW and two clinics from the National Women's Health Organization as a response to the first nation-wide attempt to shut down clinics. The defendants (Pro-Life Action Network, Scheidler, Operation Rescue) were the first to try to organize clinic blockades across the country. They held training seminars and conferences to teach people how to shut down clinics.
NOW and the two NWHO clinics sued under the Hobbs Act and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) to stop these attacks. The case was dismissed from district court and the court of appeals; the Supreme Court reinstated it in 1994. It was then tried. A jury found in favor of NOW, as did the district court judge and the court of appeals.
Marie: I heard that the NOW v. Scheidler decision, or rather the case itself, was based on something called RICO. Can you explain what that means and how the ruling relates to it?
Sharyn Tejani: RICO is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act. It was originally passed to help stop the mafia. RICO lists numerous offenses. To have a RICO violation, a plaintiff or the government has to show that 2 or more offenses happened within a 10 year period as part of a common plan or design.
Andrew: What are the other court decisions and laws that are working to protect clinics?
Sharyn Tejani: There are several. Federally, there is the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) which prohibits the use of force or threat of force to interfere with access to reproductive rights.
Some states have their own FACE Acts. Colorado and Massachusetts have laws protecting women and staff as they enter the clinics.
Other state laws (trespass, nuisance, stalking) can also be used to protect clinics and workers.
Jessica: Sharyn, do you think if we lose Roe other reproductive rights will face extreme restrictions? Is it possible that Griswold could be next?
Sharyn Tejani: The Roe decision is based on the right to privacy which comes out of birth control decisions like Griswold. Therefore, Roe being overruled could mean that the right to birth control would be in jeopardy as well.
Brooke: Hi, Sharyn. I was really disappointed, of course, with the NOW v. Scheidler decision, but I'm not sure what it will really mean in terms of protecting clinics from violent protestors. Doesn't the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act mean that protestors can't use any of the violent tactics anyway? My other question is more general. Do you think that incidents of clinic violence have declined recently? I don't read much about clinics being targeted like they used to be. Is clinic violence decreasing, or it is just out of the media spotlight?
Sharyn Tejani: FACE does protect clinics from forceable blockading, one of the most common tactics of the defendants in Scheidler. FACE has yet to be used against those who orchestrate the violence; Scheidler went after those who plan as well as those who committ the violent acts.
FMF just released our annual clinic violence survey. For the first time since 1993-1994, the number of clinics experiencing severe violence is up from the year before. You can find the survey at www.feminist.org in the reproductive rights section.
Jen: Sharyn, since Bush administration has come into power, have you seen instances where our reproductive rights were more in jeopardy than before?
Sharyn Tejani: Yes--couple of examples:
1. Our annual clinic violence survey shows that violence and intimidation against abortion providers is increasing.
2. The Senate has passed, the House will soon pass, and the president will sign a ban on a specific abortion procedure. The ban contains NO exception for the health of the woman. The Supreme Court has already said that any such ban must have an exception for the health of the woman.
3. On his first day in office, Bush reinstated the global gag rule which prohibits international non-governmental organizations from receiving US
funds if the organization gives information about abortion, even if the abortion information is paid for by the agencies own money.
4. The Bush administration has pushed funding for "abstinence only" sex education to its highest level ever, even though there is no evidence that this type of education actually works.
Moderator: Thanks for participating!