NOVEMBER 30, 2005
11:46 AM

CONTACT: National Organization for Women
Lisa Bennett, 202-628-8669, ext. 123; cell 202-641-1906

Supreme Court Cases Impact Access to Abortion Services
NOW cases put nationwide anti-violence injunction to the test

WASHINGTON - November 30 - Today the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the first abortion rights cases since Chief Justice John Roberts took the helm. Two cases — Scheidler v. National Organization for Women and Operation Rescue v. National Organization for Women — could have a lasting impact on women's ability to access a full range of reproductive health services. The third, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, could permit more barriers to abortion services, without making an exception for women’s health.

"Women's access to abortion and other reproductive health care is at great risk," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "Time and again, our fate is put in the hands of nine justices. With the decisions on these critical cases, the power and consequence of who sits on the Supreme Court will be demonstrated mightily."

After nearly 20 years of litigation and two trips to the Supreme Court to protect patients and clinics from organized violence, NOW is returning for the third time. At question in Scheidler v. NOW and Operation Rescue v. NOW is whether the nationwide anti-racketeering injunction will remain in place. Issued in 1999, this injunction has contributed to the dramatic reduction in the incidences of violence at clinics.

"Without this injunction, the legal right to abortion could become meaningless in some parts of the country," said Gandy. "If women are too terrified to walk into clinics and healthcare providers are too terrified to keep their doors open, then we will have already lost the fight for reproductive freedom. Roe v. Wade won't mean much if the clinics have been forced to close one by one."

In the1980s, groups like the Pro-Life Action Network and its offshoot, Operation Rescue, engaged in a massive, coordinated campaign to end abortion by closing women's health clinics through the use of fear, force and violence. NOW pursued this suit under the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act in order to reach the groups' kingpins who organized and incited the acts of terror. Joseph Scheidler, Randall Terry and other leaders of the self-described "pro-life mafia" had vowed to stop abortion "by any means necessary," and the ensuing attacks included arson, bombings, violent blockades, death threats and even murder. Charges by the defendants that the injunction limits their First Amendment right to free speech were specifically rejected by the Supreme Court.

"Of course Scheidler and Operation Rescue want to have the injunction lifted," Gandy said. "They are not happy simply yelling at women and girls, taking their photographs, copying their license plate numbers, harassing the clinic's employees and vendors, and using other non-violent tactics. They want to return to the days of using physical assault to terrorize patients and doctors, in order to shut down the clinics permanently.”

"This injunction has increased women's safety and helped protect the clinics," said Gandy. "The Supreme Court should recognize these concerted crimes for what they are — an organized campaign to put an end to women's constitutional right to abortion."