A federal judge in Illinois issued a nationwide injunction against abortion protesters, prohibiting them from blocking, obstructing or impeding women from entering abortion clinics, trespassing on clinic property or threatening employees or clients of the clinics.
But U.S. District Judge David Coar's ruling, handed down July 16, also spelled out what activities are permissible, including peacefully carrying picket signs, speaking to individuals approaching clinics and praying or making speeches on public property in front of a clinic.
The ruling 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 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 statute known as RICO.
In an early phase of the lawsuit a jury had found defendants guilty of interstate conspiracy to close abortion clinics by crossing state lines to commit felonies, including threats of violence, and awarded the clinics more than $86,000 in damages.
In the next phase, 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 injunction, covering a period of 12 years, is the outcome of that phase.
Coar also tripled the amount of money the jury awarded to the plaintiff clinics last year.
A statement from Scheidler said the injunction "simply states that we can't do what we don't do anyway and that we can do what we have always done."
His lawyer, Tom Brejcha, told CNS that he planned to move for a stay of the judge's injunction, then ask that it be overturned. If that failed, he said, he planned to appeal the ruling.
In a separate statement, Father Frank A. Pavone, a New York priest who is national director of Priests for Life, said the injunction rightly prohibits violence and threats of violence.
He said the ruling "actually vindicates what we do in the pro-life movement," and thanked the judge "for making it crystal clear that we have a perfect right to these activities." -CNS