By Hilary White

CHICAGO, May 09, 2007 ( – After 21 years in the courts and three separate Supreme Court rulings, NOW v. Scheidler has definitively ended in favour of the pro-life advocates. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge David Coar ruled in the national class action suit that Joseph Scheidler and the other pro-life advocates did not violate federal racketeering laws in their peaceful protests.

In February 2006, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the US’ most prominent abortion lobbyists, the National Organization of Women. That decision upheld a similar ruling in 2003 that found 8-1 in favour of the pro-life defendants.

Tom Brejcha, lead counsel for the defendants and President of Chicago’s Thomas More Society and Pro-Life Law Center told that the case could have far-reaching implications. The suit included NOW and all its members, most of the abortionists in the US and even claimed to be speaking for all the women of the US who had experienced any obstruction at an abortion facility.

When asked if there were plans to sue NOW for its extreme legal harassment and the huge costs and damages incurred, Tom Brejcha told, “I wish we could. Our system allows only the winning plaintiffs to recover costs. We can claim out of pocket costs but it’s only a five digit figure.”

Brejcha said that the benefit will be for the whole pro-life movement. “We can turn the tables on them, not to recover expenses, but this victory can be raised as a defence in any other local trespass or harassment claims of this type.”

In 1986, NOW claimed that pro-life protests outside abortion facilities constituted extortion and could be prosecuted under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) and Hobbs Acts, laws designed to combat drug dealers and organized crime.

When the 2006 ruling went against them, NOW convinced the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to keep the case alive. But in May 2006 that court sent the case back to Judge Coar for dismissal. Judge Coar also struck down a 1999 national injunction that NOW had obtained against pro-life activists.

NOW has responded to the ruling calling it inconsequential, citing the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, (FACE) which prohibits interfering with women’s access to clinics.

Brejcha responded to NOW’s dismissal of the case as redundant saying, “Well it was a very expensive redundancy if that’s the case.”

Other public advocacy groups, including that founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, had filed amicus briefs saying that NOW’s claims would present a threat to non-violent civil disobedience, political advocacy of all sorts and to freedom of expression.

Had the racketeering charge stuck, said Brejcha, “it would have cast Dr. [Martin Luther] King in the role of a racketeer. The suit alleged that civil disobedience in the form of a peaceful sit-in was the taking of a property by force.”

“The irony,” Brejcha said, “is that a group of right wing conservative protesters has preserved the ideal of Ghandian tactics, what Dr. King called ‘peaceable nonviolent direct action’. Such tactics may be against the law, but it [the court has ruled] isn’t violence.”

Read related coverage:
Joe Scheidler Wins Unanimous Supreme Court Ruling against N.O.W.