By June, the U.S. Supreme Court will settle a 17-year-old legal battle between abortion providers and the prolife movement. The court will decide if abortion clinics can use a federal racketeering statute against prolife organizations that protest outside the clinics.

The prochoice National Organization for Women (NOW) is helping to represent abortion clinics in their class-action suit. The chief defendant is Joseph Scheidler, the renowned Roman Catholic anti-abortion activist. Scheidler said NOW's "real goal is to bankrupt prolifers and prolife organizations, and put them out of the business of saving babies from being murdered."

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), says, "The outcome of this case will have a direct impact beyond the abortion debate and will include free speech parameters for the entire social protest movement."

Clinic protests stopped

Sekulow worked with attorneys who presented oral arguments before the nine justices on December 4. A coalition of 70 activists and prolife groups is asking the Supreme Court to overturn a federal district court jury's landmark 1998 decision, NOW v. Scheidler.

In the suit, filed in 1986, NOW argued that Scheidler's Pro-Life Action League, Operation Rescue, and others conspired to shut down the abortion industry through a "pattern of racketeering activity," violating the 1970 Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (rico) Act. Those convicted under the act must pay triple damages.

In 1991, a federal judge ruled that the rico law, designed to fight organized crime, was not applicable to prolife protests. But three years later, the Supreme Court overturned the 1991 decision, leading to the trial. Before the trial began, defendant Randall ...

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