Racketeering Case against Militant Anti-Abortion Activists Comes to a Close

According to the National Organization for Women, Joseph Scheidler once likened his militant Pro-Life Action Network to a “pro-life mafia.” Now, Scheidler is celebrating the final dismissal of a lawsuit that sought to hold his group’s (sometimes violent) intimidation activism accountable to an anti-mob racketeering law. “I’ve waited 21 years for this news!” said Scheidler. The ruling following a Supreme Court decision last year that federal racketeering laws don’t apply to organized crime without extortion or robbery.

Troy Newman, president of the current incarnation of Operation Rescue, praised Scheidler as a “true American hero.” The original Operation Rescue, run by Randall Terry, was also part of the NOW v. Scheidler lawsuit, but Terry agreed to a permanent injunction against his brand of clinic blockades and a monetary settlement back in 1998. (Terry, who declared bankruptcy to evade the settlement, found himself in the news again two years ago as the spokesman for Terri Schiavo’s parents.)

Throughout the period of militant anti-abortion protesting, when clinic bombings and murders of doctors spotted the headlines, Scheidler was unapologetic about his group’s tactics. “I’m doing what I have to do. So what? I’ve got some misdemeanors … I don’t consider myself a criminal,” he said (AP, 12/5/93). He bragged about his unusual actions, such as absconding with fetal remains (Wash. Post, 12/6/93) or picketing the homes of doctors (“Home Pickets Work,” USA Today, 10/19/95).

NOW’s timeline of the lawsuit offers a reminder of what brought on the case:

After resounding defeats in Congress, the courts and public opinion, the anti-abortion movement changes tactics, aiming to put abortion providers and clinics out of business through intimidation and violence. Joe Scheidler, Andrew Scholberg and a handful of other self-described “radical” anti-abortion leaders form a nationwide coalition named PLAN—the Pro-Life Action Network. Scheidler vows to stop abortion “by any means necessary” and calls PLAN the “pro-life mafia.” In the midst of a rash of clinic arsons and bombings, PLAN proclaims “a year of pain and fear” for anyone seeking or providing abortion.

NOW urges President Reagan, the U.S. Justice Department, Congress and local law enforcement agencies to vigorously investigate clinic terrorism and bring anti-abortion criminals to justice. Government and authorities either ignore NOW’s pleas or claim they are powerless to do anything.

Mar. 26, 1986
Members of PLAN invade a clinic in Pensacola, Fla., throwing the clinic administrator down the stairs, injuring a NOW chapter president and wrecking medical equipment, forcing the clinic out of business for several days. Joe Scheidler stands outside during the invasion, praising those who went in and taking credit for the mayhem.

More from NOW counsel Fay Clayton’s testimony before Congress, following a jury verdict against Scheidler and the others:

Let me turn to the reasons that RICO was needed to stem the campaign of violence that was organized against my clients by the Pro-Life Action Network. By 1984, Joseph Scheidler, Andrew Scholberg and a handful of other self-described “radical” anti-abortion leaders formed a nationwide coalition that they named PLAN — the Pro-Life Action Network. (They didn’t invite peaceful anti-abortion groups, like Jack Willke’s National Right-to-Life Committee, to join.) Scheidler vowed to stop abortion by “any means necessary.” He publicly praised convicted arsonists for their effectiveness and their zeal. Appropriately, Scheidler called PLAN the “pro-life mafia.” In 1985, in the midst of a rash of clinic arsons and bombings, PLAN proclaimed “a year of pain and fear” for anyone seeking or providing an abortion. Scheidler and others claimed that their tactics were “non-violent,” but Scheidler also claimed that arson is “non-violent” — which gives you an idea of the word games he and his cohorts play. …

It’s important to dispel the myth that PLAN engaged in nothing but peaceful, First Amendment-protected activity. It did not. PLAN’s blockades, invasions and the other RICO violations that the jury found PLAN committed are acts of force and violence. The jury heard testimony from patients and clinic workers who were attacked during PLAN’s blockades, including blockades at which Joseph Scheidler and Randall Terry were personally on the scene. One doctor, Dr. Susan Wicklund, was grabbed and slammed against a car as she tried to get through the blockade and into her office. Patients were tripped and pushed to the ground. One clinic administrator was grabbed by her hair and thrown to the ground by an Operation Rescue leader. Another was viciously choked by Operation Rescue protesters, leaving serious bruises on her neck. One patient, who was trying to enter the clinic — not for an abortion but for post-operative care following cancer surgery — was beaten with an Operation Rescue protester’s sign. The protesters clawed at her and attacked her, causing her sutures to rupture, and she passed out. This is not speech or advocacy.