Supreme Court sides with abortion protesters

In an 8-0 decision the high court deals a blow to abortion clinics by ruling in favor of protesters.

Published February 28, 2006 7:04PM (EST)

After a two-decade legal battle over abortion protests, the Supreme Court yesterday dealt a setback to abortion clinics by ruling that "federal extortion and racketeering laws cannot be used to ban demonstrations," reports the Associated Press. Yesterday's decision is the third court ruling in a series of cases that began back in 1986 when, according to Reuters, "anti-abortion groups were sued by the National Organization for Women and others for their tactics, including violent demonstrations to block access to clinics where abortions were performed."

In the first ruling, in 1994, the Supreme Court decided that federal racketeering law could be used to challenge the clinic blockades. But in 2003 it reversed that judgment, leading antiabortion groups to seek an appeal. In response, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals "asked a trial judge to determine whether a nationwide injunction could be supported by charges that protesters had made threats of violence absent a connection with robbery or extortion." Yesterday, the Supreme Court's sweeping 8-0 decision effectively ended the debate. The AFL-CIO and other social activist groups have sided with antiabortion groups out of concern that "similar lawsuits and injunctions could be used to thwart their efforts to change public policy or agitate for better wages and working conditions."

Although bitterly disapointed by the ruling, in a statement released this afternoon, NOW president Kim Gandy promised that if the Supreme Court decision "ushers in a return to clinic violence in the United States, NOW stands ready to fight in every jurisdiction." NOW attests that the injunction against clinic demonstrators greatly contributed to a decline in clinic violence over the last decade. Though the 8-0 ruling is certainly alarming, since antiabortion groups have been demonstrating with impunity since the 2003 reversal, yesterday's ruling will likely do little to change the situation on the ground. But it is the symbolic victory -- coupled with South Dakota's recent antiabortion vote -- that may further embolden an antiabortion movement eager to test the country's more conservative Supreme Court.

By Sarah Goldstein

Sarah Goldstein is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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