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April 4, 2006

The politics of anti-abortion legalese

A few weeks ago, Carol Crossed of the Consistent Life coalition, which opposed NOW’s stance in this case, wrote to us, first to clarify the non-religious mission of her organization (which we noted in a clarification appended to the article), and also to argue the following:

"All but eight of the 120 incidences of alleged violence by anti-abortion protesters were dismissed.  Another 3 incidences were unfounded or were perjured testimony.  And none of the purported incidences were 'bombing or arson' quoted by [NOW President] Kim Gandy that NOW was attempting to stop through the use of RICO."

Crossed also challenged the litigation over the four incidents that the Supreme Court recently ruled on with respect to the Hobbs Act, arguing that they were "unclear and non-specific." She concluded, "Ironically, after hundreds of protests and arrests for civil disobedience since 1986, this few number of incidences indicates a rather remarkable non-violent movement."

We should note that Gandy’s quote, which referred to the group’s legal strategy against anti-choice groups, was not presented in the context that Crossed conveys, and that the validity of the testimony was not a central issue in the latest court ruling. But the letter did point to interesting questions that have emerged throughout this long legal saga.

Out of a sense of editorial duty, we waded through a stack of documents and articles Consistent Life sent to us, which were intended to cast doubt on the charges against the anti-abortion protesters. But eventually, we realized that our role is to report, not to adjudicate, particularly when it comes to claims that are not central to the story.

To our understanding, the Supreme Court made its ruling on a statutory basis. That is, the court essentially nullified the legal basis of previous decisions by opining that anti-racketeering laws did not apply here. The decision affirmed a Court of Appeal’s rejection of NOW’s suit in January 2005, in which the judge wrote: "Without an underlying RICO violation, the injunction issued by the District Court must necessarily be vacated."

The allegations behind the litigation were the subject of a jury trial about nine years ago, and the jurors found that the defendants had committed "threats," "conspiracy," and other violations related to federal anti-racketeering statutes. Weighing the evidence, the Illinois District Court judge wrote, "there is little doubt that plaintiffs [NOW, etc.] have adequately demonstrated the existence of genuine issues as to defendants' affecting of intangible property... by the forced closing of clinics through the use of fear..."

Obviously, both sides can always challenge the integrity of the evidence following a jury verdict. And we suspect the Supreme Court has not had the final word, at least in political terms, in the abortion-racketeering debate. Residual questions about how the courts should have ruled, however, were not within the scope of this article, since we were reporting on what the Supreme Court did rule in this instance. That was based on its interpretation of the law, not the exoneration of specific individuals.

We presented NOW's citation of the incidents in question as part of its legal argument. Whether these arguments were spurious as a matter of objective fact is a discussion much better suited for a jury than for a news organization. Our job was to focus on what we viewed as the most significant aspect of the case: its impact on the free-expression rights of activist groups.


ccrossed: The politics of anti-abortion legalese

The New Standard News is absolutely correct about the Supreme Court decision being about the use of RICO against the freedom of speech. My remarks were in response to the inaccurate claims by NOW who continue to raise either fraudulent or irrelevant issues that were published by the NSN in the article by Chen. In the transcript of the Supreme Court hearing, Ruth Bader Ginsburg also made it clear that the alledged acts of violence by pro-life protesters were non-descript and unclear. This would be the more news worthy objective commentary than either side of the debate could offer.

Carol Nan Crossed

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.