CHICAGO (CNS) - A federal judge in Illinois issued a nationwide injunction against abortion protesters, prohibiting them from blocking, obstructing or impeding women from entering abortion clinics. U.S. District Judge David Coar's ruling, handed down July 16, stems from a six-week trial that ended in April 1998 in which the National Organization for Women and two abortion clinics sued the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League and other defendants, including league head Joseph Scheidler, Operation Rescue, and activists Andrew Scholberg and Timothy Murphy. The almost 13-year-old NOW suit charged that the defendants had created a climate that encouraged using violence to prevent women from going into clinics to obtain an abortion. The basis of the suit was the federal anti-racketeering statue known as RICO.
A jury handed down a guilty verdict and awarded the clinics more than $86,000 in damages. Jurors found defendants guilty of interstate conspiracy to close abortion clinics by crossing state lines to commit felonies, including threats of violence.
In the next phase of the lawsuit, Coar heard oral testimony and accepted written materials on a request to enjoin the defendants and anybody else in the country from engaging in civil disobedience at an abortion clinic. The July 16 ruling is the outcome of that phase of the suit.
Coar said the defendants are prohibited from blocking access to abortion clinics, damaging or trespassing on their property or threatening employees or clients of the clinics. The injunction was set to cover a period of 12 years.
The injunction specifically allows demonstrators to peacefully carry picket signs or make speeches on public property in front of a clinic; speak to individuals who are approaching clinics; hand out literature on public property; and pray on public property. Scheidler said in a statement that the award of damages was based on the jury's finding that unknown persons associated with the Pro-Life Action League and Operation Rescue were responsible for responsible for the clinics having had extra expenses for security.
In a separate statement, Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said the injunction rightly prohibits violence and threats of violence. "Yet I know nobody in the world more opposed to violence than the defendants in this case," he said.
He said the ruling "actually vindicates what we do in the prolife movement" and thanked the judge "for making it crystal clear that we have a perfect right to these activities."