The US Supreme Court announced on Tuesday that it would hear for the third time a long-running case dealing with clinic violence. The case, National Organization for Women, et al v. Joseph Scheidler, et al, was first initiated in 1986 under the leadership of Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal, who was then president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), and Susan Hill, president of the National Women’s Health Organization. NOW sued Joseph Scheidler and the Pro-Life Action Network, among others, arguing that they conspired illegally to close women’s reproductive health clinics, by using threats and extortionate acts against doctors, clinic employees and patients, in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
“The RICO case was a turning point in the fight for abortion rights,” said Hill. “It was the first time there was an organized effort to fight back against what we believed to be illegal means of interfering with services [provided by women’s health clinics.] I think that the Court’s actions in the late 1990s helped to save [abortion] providers’ and women’s lives.”
NOW and the National Women’s Health Organization were successful the first time the case appeared before the US Supreme Court in 1994, but in 2003 the Supreme Court reversed its previous decision, sending the case back to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court renewed the case on the grounds that threats of violence or violent acts may have been enough to initiate a lawsuit under RICO. The court refused to cancel the nationwide injunction barring anti-abortion protestors from trespassing in or near abortion clinics.
“We’re grateful the injunction has been keeping women safe for seven years, and the Court’s decision to give the case a full hearing will ensure that it stays in place at least until the Court renders a final decision,” said NOW President Kim Gandy.