The Supreme Court heard arguments today in NOW v Scheidler, a landmark case brought to curtail violence against women’s reproductive health care centers. In 1986 while serving as president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Eleanor Smeal (currently president of the Feminist Majority Foundation) initiated this case along with two clinics from the National Women’s Health Organization. The jury, district court, and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals all found that the attacks on clinics orchestrated by Joseph Scheidler and his cohorts constituted extortion and racketeering.
The Supreme Court arguments addressed two issues. First, whether a private party such as NOW can obtain an injunction under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, and second, whether the violence perpetrated by Scheidler and his followers qualified as extortion under federal law.
Fay Clayton, arguing for NOW and the clinics, stressed the violence that Scheidler and his accomplices used in their campaign and likened it to a mafia figure terrorizing a business owner. For the RICO argument, she emphasized the fact that without the right to bring an injunction, private plaintiffs would be unable to stop racketeering that affected their business or property.
According to Eleanor Smeal, “What is really at issue is whether women patients and businesses providing them reproductive health care will have the full measure of protection under the law or will be treated as second class citizens, as women themselves all too often are.”