Supreme Court Hears Critical Cases to Stop Anti-Abortion Violence Statement of Eleanor Smeal, President
Washington, DC – After the United States Supreme Court heard arguments today in two related class action cases involving anti-abortion clinic violence and access to women’s health clinics (Joseph Scheidler, et. al. v. National Organization for Women, et. al. and Operation Rescue, et. al. v. National Organization for Women, et. al.), Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, made the following statement:
When I initiated this case almost 20 years ago as the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), we did so to stop the reign of terror perpetrated by anti-abortion extremists at clinics across the country. We knew then that the threats and attacks were escalating and we believed were being orchestrated. We then went on to prove a pattern of nationwide crimes.
What’s at stake in these cases is a nationwide injunction prohibiting violence aimed at clinics, doctors, staff and patients. We believe this lawsuit and injunction have significantly contributed to reducing the level of violence at clinics.
We believe a loss of the injunction may embolden anti-abortion extremists to escalate domestic terrorism towards women’s reproductive health clinics. Indeed, we know that following the loss in 1993 of the Bray v. Alexandria Supreme Court decision, violence against abortion providers escalated. Let us be clear – this case, as the courts have determined, is not about peaceful protests or demonstrations. This is about illegal violence against women’s health care centers.
Some argue that the Freedom of Entrances to Clinic Entrances law (FACE), which was passed in 1994, alone is sufficient to protect women’s health clinics. But we believe that RICO provides important advantages in addition to those provided by FACE. First, RICO provides the opportunity for a nationwide civil injunction, instead of having to pursue injunctions under FACE federal jurisdiction by federal jurisdiction, or U.S. attorney by U.S. attorney. Second, RICO enables pursuit of those who orchestrate the violence, not just those who perpetrate the violence, as under FACE; in other words, we can go after the kingpins, not just the foot soldiers.
Shockingly, the Bush administration’s Department of Justice has chosen to argue on the side of Joseph Scheidler and Operation Rescue in both issues before the court – one of the few times in history the Justice Department has entered court to argue for a narrower interpretation of a criminal statute.
Fundamentally, the reason this case is so important – and we have pursued it so long – is it serves to curb violence against clinics. There can be no choice for women if clinics and abortion providers are driven out of business.
The Feminist Majority Foundation authored the major amicus brief on clinic violence in these cases on behalf of major reproductive rights and health organizations. FMF runs the nation’s oldest and largest clinic defense program, working with the nation’s some 650 independent clinics, one of which is the National Women’s Health Organization which owns and operates the two named clinics in these cases, and represents the class of virtually all clinics. More information can be found at www.feminist.org/rrights/scheidlercase.htm.###