Pro-life activists Joseph Scheidler, Andrew Scholberg, and Timothy Murphy, found guilty of racketeering in April in connection with their nationwide abortion protests, say the convictions violate their free-speech rights.
"I'm a racketeer because I don't think cutting babies' heads off is a good idea," Scheidler says. "If this goes through, almost anybody who talks to someone or does something that hurts someone's business, that could be extortion. That's not America."
The successful 12-year-old suit, brought by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and two abortion facilities, was the first against the pro-life movement filed under the Racketeer-Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, originally designed to target organized crime.
NOW attorney Sara Love says the First Amendment did not protect the protesters' activities because they were forcefully "depriving women of their constitutional right and depriving clinics of their right to do business."
The jury in NOW v. Scheidler awarded the two abortion facilities nearly $86,000 in damages. As a RICO conviction, the damage award will be tripled. Because of the suit's class-action status, abortion facilities nationwide can seek damages as well. Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, says they will pursue an appeal of the verdict.
Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, originally named as a defendant in the suit but dropped because of a previous settlement with NOW, says he believes the pro-life movement will prevail in the end.
"If Joe Scheidler is a racketeer, then Martin Luther King is a racketeer," Terry says. "This verdict, if it's sustained at the Supreme Court, would spell the death of over 200 years of peaceful protest in America."
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