Religious opponents of abortion say a Tuesday U.S. Supreme Court decision removes uncertainty about the legality of protesting in front of clinics but others say it could put women in harm's way.
The unanimous ruling ends a long battle in which the National Organization for Women tried to stop anti-abortion protests by citing racketeering and extortion laws designed to fight organized crime.
"Decisions of this court have assumed that Congress did not intend the Hobbs Act to have so broad a reach," wrote Justice Stephen Breyer, referring to an extortion law.
He added that Congress enacted the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act in 1994, "suggesting it did not believe that the Hobbs Act already addressed that activity."
The American Center for Law and Justice, which represented Operation Rescue, a defendant in the case, hailed the decision.
"This is a major victory for the pro-life community and removes a cloud that has been hanging over pro-life demonstrations for years," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the Washington-based legal group.
He and others were pleased that the "nearly two-decade-old litigation marathon" concluded with a decision that those demonstrating against abortion are not affected by laws typically used to address drug dealing.
But the Rev. Carlton Veazey, president of the Washington-based Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, was disappointed by the court's action and worried about its broader influence. "This case is not only about the safety of women's clinics," he said. "It is also about the safety of churches that have pro-choice positions and pro-choice clergy and the safety of homes of clergy who are pro-choice. The court's decision in this case leaves these individuals without protection." ...1
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