Supreme Court Ruling Misrepresented by Anti-Abortion Camp

Destruction of Birmingham clinic.  Photo by WBRC, via CNN (1998). The Supreme Court ruled today that protests outside abortion clinics and violence to prevent the functioning of the clinics cannot be prosecuted as racketeering.[1] I would agree. The worst of the anti-abortion (“pro-life”) attacks should not be classified as racketeering, but as terrorism.

Anti-abortion protests, even coordinated ones, are certainly not racketeering, which according to the law is a conspiracy to obstruct, rob, extort, or violently interfere with commerce. The clinics are not technically carrying out commerce and I wouldn’t want to use a pro-business law to fight any kind of protesters, even violent ones. Really, anti-abortion violence, like the bombing of abortion clinics and assassination of doctors, is more like the kinds of things we’re seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan today, called “terrorism” by the Bush Administration.

Anti-abortion groups are portraying the new ruling is “a major victory for the pro-life community.”[2] But this is a misrepresentation. The ruling was about what the anti-abortion activities are not, not what they are. There is nothing in the ruling that argues in favor of criminalizing abortion, and certainly nothing that vindicates terrorism against women exercising their rights. The ruling stipulated on “the meaning of the phrase that modifies the term ‘physical violence,’ ” in the legal definition of racketeering. It is disingenuous to treat this as any sort of support for violence against abortion practitioners or even simply support for the anti-abortion cause in general. Thomas Brejcha, the lawyer for Joseph Scheidler (the national director of the Pro-Life Action League and plaintiff in the case), claimed the ruling was “not just a victory for pro-life activists, but for anyone who chooses to exercise his First Amendment rights to effect social change.”[3] An interesting interpretation. Does this mean suicide and other bombings in Afghanistan and Iraq are an exercise of free speech “rights to effect social change” too?

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