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An Abortion Clinic Nightmare or An Activism Boon?
February 26, 2003 2:59 PM   Subscribe

A Supreme Court ruling with interesting implications: All lower court racketeering convictions against pro-life protestors have been effectively overturned. Operation Rescue is quite free to harass patients and blockade clinics again. Is this a major dent in the campaign to save Roe vs. Wade? Or does this open up new possibilities for activists of all stripes?
posted by ed (39 comments total)

 
God damn it. I hate protesters (of any persuasion) and this just means there will be more of them.

While I recognize their right to free speech, I'd be much happier if they didn't use it.
posted by Spacelegoman at 3:09 PM on February 26, 2003


I think George W. Bush is the next Jesus Christ. I do. Why? Why, because he sets them free. He liberates.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 3:22 PM on February 26, 2003


I hate protesters (of any persuasion) and this just means there will be more of them.


Yeah, people who passionately endorse a viewpoint are just so ... icky. They embarrass me with their loud cries for justice and their signs, and their hope. How lame. Get a life. Go bungy jumpin' or sumpthin'.

With gut-wrenching ambiguity (caused by the spite I feel towards Operation Rescue), I think this was the correct decision. Even in the extreme case (or extremely noxious) the right to free speech must be protected. Having an organized agenda, even a loathsome one, is not racketeering or sedition (unless, of course, it is sedition). Pushing that agenda must be protected within the law, in order that those who have less organized or foul agendas may speak for those as well.
posted by Wulfgar! at 3:33 PM on February 26, 2003


There's protesting, and then there's harrassment. I've always felt groups like Operation Rescue practice the latter.

Where's Bill Hicks when you need him?

"If you're so pro-life, don't link arms and block abortion clinics. Link arms and block cemetaries."
posted by RakDaddy at 3:36 PM on February 26, 2003


this makes me want to blockade the offices of corporate donors who give money to Operation Rescue. but, at least they won't have to resort to using their secret weapon
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 3:39 PM on February 26, 2003


This is good news. Had the SCOTUS gone the other way, it would have given the state broad power to prosecute almost any form of organized public disruption or demonstration under RICO.
posted by Ty Webb at 3:40 PM on February 26, 2003


I think that Ashcroft is pretty pissed about this decision, because it would have given him even more authority to uncover, hunt and kill anti-establishment protestors had it gone the other way. I doubt this decision will slow him down, but it will NOT speed him up, at least...

Unfortunately I think that the type of protestors who will benefit from this ruling are the aggressive, in-your-face and often violent ones. Most anti-establishment protestors are protesting for peace, peacefully, or equal treatment under the law; they just want to show up and be counted. The violent ones are usually harassing conservatives (NRA rallies, neo-nazis, pro-life doctor killers, etc.) The frenzies that these hard-righters get into may lead to a few more assassinations of popular liberal figures.

I'll call it right now: 2-3 anti-war pro-choice celebrities/politicians will get shot before the year is out.
posted by zekinskia at 3:42 PM on February 26, 2003


Bill hicks is currently doing the rotisserie in his grave. I can't begin to fathom how dark his act would be if he were alive today.
posted by Fupped Duck at 3:43 PM on February 26, 2003


Ty Webb: i agree that that is likely the case, but are we talking about organized public protests? do they get a permit to blockade health clinics? if so, then i am a goof, and can i get a permit to blockade a christian bookstore or a place that sells loud car stereos to teenagers?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 3:44 PM on February 26, 2003


Definitely the right decision. The last thing the US needs is for its government to have broader avenues through which to squelch the free speech of its citizens.

The next thing you know, some group at Harvard is going to sue to have RICOH apply to people who build giant snow-dicks. Then where will we be? Where, I ask you?
posted by vraxoin at 3:45 PM on February 26, 2003


Even if you're against abortion this seems like a very bad precedent, at least on the surface. The anti-abortion activists are resorting to physical intimidation including threats of violence or death in order to prevent people from entering pro-choice establishments. No matter what this is illegal. Beyond that they're forming a conspiracy to behave in this manner which is where the racketeering charges came in. Conspiracy to commit an illegal act usually adds extra weight to the charges.

Racketeering is defined as using intimidation, blackmail etc. in order to further illegal activities. This might be why the case was overturned. Protest itself isn't illegal, even if you don't agree with the reasons for the protest.
posted by substrate at 3:46 PM on February 26, 2003


Someday, when the history books look back on Bush as the worst.president.ever, it will hang the shame for all the damege he's doing around the neck of good old Antonin, the kingmaker who woulda shoulda coulda been Chief Just, but for his silly lapse into open politics when he plugged the drunken fratboy into office after the rough count in the election of 2000. But I digress...

Scalia called last year upon all catholic judges against the death penalty to resign. This decision has his stench all over it, even if Renquist signed it.
posted by Fupped Duck at 3:52 PM on February 26, 2003


but are we talking about organized public protests? do they get a permit to blockade health clinics?

As I understand, like many protest organizations, sometimes anti-abortion types get permits, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they are arrested for civil disobedience, such as blockading, sometimes they are just moved off the premises. When the protest crosses the (sometimes hazy) line into harassment and threats of violence, there are laws to deal with that.
posted by Ty Webb at 3:56 PM on February 26, 2003


Ignatius: I don't know how it is now in the US, but 13-14 years ago you didn't need a permit to work in front of a clinic. You usually just took to the public sidewalks and looked for the girls going to the clinic.

As long at you didn'tenter private buildings, block traffic or other pedestrians from going about their business the police would leave you alone.
posted by ?! at 3:58 PM on February 26, 2003


No matter what this is illegal.

There's the rub, isn't it. Prosecuting the actions of the blockading blockheads under anti-racketeering laws is misguided. There is no conspiracy to further illegal activities, until it is firmly established that the activities conspired for are illegal. If more prosecutions tookplace for felony intimidation, or assault, as sponsered by OR, then I think a racketeering case would stand. But forwarding a charge that doesn't hold water simply to silence protest is as dangerous to the harassed as to the harasser.

and can i get a permit to blockade ... a place that sells loud car stereos to teenagers?

Dude, I'm hard to push around and I am so there...
posted by Wulfgar! at 4:01 PM on February 26, 2003


Someday, when the history books look back on Bush as the worst.president.ever, it will hang the shame for all the damege he's doing around the neck of good old Antonin, the kingmaker who woulda shoulda coulda been Chief Just, but for his silly lapse into open politics when he plugged the drunken fratboy into office after the rough count in the election of 2000.

I can only hope so. My wife considers the true axis of evil to be George HW Bush, Richard Cheney, and Antonin Scalia. I agree with her.
posted by Wulfgar! at 4:05 PM on February 26, 2003


Someday, when the history books look back on Bush as the worst.president.ever, it will hang the shame for all the damege he's doing around the neck of good old Antonin, the kingmaker who woulda shoulda coulda been Chief Just, but for his silly lapse into open politics when he plugged the drunken fratboy into office after the rough count in the election of 2000. But I digress...

Scalia called last year upon all catholic judges against the death penalty to resign. This decision has his stench all over it, even if Renquist signed it.


What the hell are you babbling about? This was an 8-1 decision. How do you possibly blame this result on Scalia alone??
posted by gyc at 4:10 PM on February 26, 2003


I'm not exactly pro-life or pro-choice (dammit, why can't level-headed folks have a nice, simple label—oh yeah, now I remember: because nuanced beliefs defy labeling).

/digression

It's a good ruling.

Nice to see 'em getting it right.

and wulfgar!, I keep thinking you're a woman (wolfgirl). You threw me, there.

My vote for axis of evil: Cheney, Bush, Wolfowitz.
posted by silusGROK at 4:20 PM on February 26, 2003


Operation Rescue is quite free to harass patients and blockade clinics again.

Um, no. The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act
makes it illegal to use force, the threat of force, or "physical
obstruction" intentionally to

a) "injure"
b) "intimidate"
c) "interfere with," or
d) attempt to injure/intimidate/interfere with

someone because that person is engaged in "obtaining or providing
reproductive health services," as those terms are defined in the statute.
posted by mattpfeff at 4:22 PM on February 26, 2003


Most anti-establishment protestors are protesting for peace, peacefully, or equal treatment under the law; they just want to show up and be counted. The violent ones are usually harassing conservatives (NRA rallies, neo-nazis, pro-life doctor killers, etc.) The frenzies that these hard-righters get into may lead to a few more assassinations of popular liberal figures.

This is pure conjecture, unless you have evidence. While I am pro-choice and generally disagree with the opinions of those who are otherwise, I will always support their right to protest (within the boundaries, of course).

On preview: and what mattpfeff said.
posted by poopy at 4:30 PM on February 26, 2003


This was discussed previously several months ago. I have somewhat mixed feelings about this one as I explained in the old thread. I think that allowing some people to prevent other people from exercising a constitutional right (to get an abortion) is bad, and probably more bad than limiting the speech rights of the protestors. However, prosecuting them under a law that was originally aimed at the mafia seems a bit over the top. So I guess you could say that I'm sympathetic to the ends, but disagree with the means.
posted by boltman at 5:12 PM on February 26, 2003


it's my understanding that they weren't just protesting and harassing at the entrances to clinics, but also booking appointments that they obviously had no intention of keeping, in order to prevent legitimate clients from being seen. that constitutes an interference with business practices, which i believe (IANAL) was at least part of the basis for using RICO.
posted by damn yankee at 5:31 PM on February 26, 2003


Yes, sincerity and enthusiam of all kinds are to be discouraged. I yearn for the good old days when Enthusiast was a dirty word.
posted by dcodea at 5:44 PM on February 26, 2003


Free speech v. liberty. That a tough call for anyone.

Point in fact: This ruling does not give free reign to anti-choice protesters because other tools like civil injunctions can still be used to prevent anti-choice protesters from blocking access to clinics and harassing doctors and those seeking their constitutional rights (for a better discussion on reasonable limits placed on free speech rights to preserve a woman’s right to seek an abortion and other rights see Madsen v. Woman’s Health Center Inc. and its progeny)

P.S. Why do MIFIers oppose all restrictions on war rallies (even when such restrictions are reasonable and constitutionally permissible), but seem to support measures that would totally prevent anti-choice protesters from expressing their views (even in constitutionally permissible ways)? I think it's the good old MIFI irony and hypocrisy: rights for those whom I agree with and none for those I don't. Bush and the far right would so proud.
posted by Bag Man at 8:42 PM on February 26, 2003


P.S. Why do MIFIers oppose all restrictions on war rallies (even when such restrictions are reasonable and constitutionally permissible), but seem to support measures that would totally prevent anti-choice protesters from expressing their views (even in constitutionally permissible ways)?

I think the word for what you're about to experience is "scrum".
posted by MidasMulligan at 9:43 PM on February 26, 2003


Bag Man: Although not a big fan of abortion rights generally, I am in favor of limiting speech rights of abortion protesters to the extent that they interfere with a woman's right to choose. I also think that the limitations on the war protests in NYC were wrong. There's nothing inconsistent at all about these positions because in the case of war protests there was only one constitutional right at issue: free expression. In the case of the abortion protestors there are two rights in conflict: free expression and the right to abortion. Of course, that in itself doesn't dictate the outcomes, but it should make it obvious that the correct result in one in no way dictates the correct result in the other.

Believe it or not, most of us are capable of holding both nuanced and principled positions on these sorts of issues.
posted by boltman at 10:27 PM on February 26, 2003


Why do MIFIers oppose all restrictions on war rallies

Straw man: please find a single comment which says such a thing. And since Midas is here to play the Wicked Witch of Wall Street, let's all head off down the yellow brick road.

from exercising a constitutional right (to get an abortion)

tick... tick... tick... only a matter of time before that statement becomes factually inaccurate. Which will actually make this judgement moot.
posted by riviera at 12:50 AM on February 27, 2003


I think the word for what you're about to experience is "scrum".

What scrum? Several posters in this thread who've identified themselves as pro-choice have said this ruling is a correct one, even if they aren't thrilled with it. I myself have long been uncomfortable with using the RICO act in this manner even as someone who identifies himself as pro-choice. I don't see any basis for pulling out your "they're all pinko-commies" crayons here.
posted by jalexei at 5:36 AM on February 27, 2003


Does anyone else have personal experience with this? On either side?

I spent one morning a week for two years in front of a clinic. It's wasn't a peaceful debate such as on Metafilter. People were downright nasty. There was much more than speech involved. People were physical much more than is reported to the police. This was before FACE, but those I know on the front line say there are days when everyone reverts to their old ways.

Personally, I think scrum could be an apt description for what will happen in front of a few clinics this summer.
posted by ?! at 6:30 AM on February 27, 2003


I am in favor of limiting speech rights of abortion protesters to the extent that they interfere with a woman's right to choose.

Can speech really limit or prevent someone from exercising a right? The protestors cannot physically stop (or threaten with bodily harm) somebody going to a clinic without violating other laws. As somebody said, you cannot limit the freedom of speech without completely losing it.

In the end, I think the malevolent actions of certain abortion protestors do more to hurt their cause than help it. Yelling at and judging somebody won't stop them and will only spread anger and hate.
posted by jsonic at 6:39 AM on February 27, 2003


Yelling at and judging somebody won't stop them

It may not stop you, but it will stop some people who may be much more timid, or less sure of their decision. We have limitations on speech that is permissible around polling stations during elections. This strikes me as a quite similar situation.
posted by boltman at 7:38 AM on February 27, 2003


We have limitations on speech that is permissible around polling stations during elections

Good point. It raises the question of if that limitation should exist at all.

It may not stop you, but it will stop some people who may be much more timid, or less sure of their decision.

I see your point, but outlawing speech based on the possibility that it might change somebody's opinion is a slippery slope. My original point is that speech cannot prevent me (or anyone) from exercising a right. It might make me think about my decision, but the decision (and right) are still mine to do with as I choose.

I think the situation would be diffused if the protestors tried to promote their message without being hateful towards their audience.
posted by jsonic at 9:05 AM on February 27, 2003


What scrum? Several posters in this thread who've identified themselves as pro-choice have said this ruling is a correct one, even if they aren't thrilled with it.

This how I feel, I am pro-choice, but I am also pro-free speech.

Believe it or not, most of us are capable of holding both nuanced and principled positions on these sorts of issues.

I know I can (see above), but most MIFIers have proven they can't

Straw man: please find a single comment which says such a thing. And since Midas is here to play the Wicked Witch of Wall Street, let's all head off down the yellow brick road.

Not a straw man, see here.

I also think that the limitations on the war protests in NYC were wrong.

In the NYC case neither the marching nor the protest was banned. The only thing that was enjoined was marching on the sidewalks. But in typical MIFI fashion this fact was missed. For the record: I supported the protests NYC and I am ant-war. However, I am also a reasonable person that knows the facts and oppose troll.

I am in favor of limiting speech rights of abortion protesters to the extent that they interfere with a woman's right to choose.

This is about what the Supreme Court come up with. Writing for the majority in Madsen v. Woman’s Health Center Inc. Justice Rehnquist developed a test that went a bit like this: The Court can't enjoin more speech that is reasonability necessary to protect the other rights at issue (even if they are not constitutional rights).

For the record: I am pro-choice, but I believe in free speech for all. I also believe that a balance can be stuck to allow those to express themselves and those to seek an abortion. Or in general, rights need to balance against each other so no one get screwed. It's the hard part.

Scrum? Who's against making sure everyone gets their due rights?
posted by Bag Man at 5:12 PM on February 27, 2003


What does free speech mean in the US? Can I say anything you want? I mean, if I see you walking down the street can I call you anything I want -- without fear of you touching me -- knowing if you do I can have you arrested?

If I am 5-4 and weigh 109 lbs and you are 6-2 and weigh 230...do those words mean less? If the situation is reversed do they mean more?

Where does my free speech end?
posted by ?! at 5:27 PM on February 27, 2003


jsonic: "Yelling at and judging somebody won't stop them and will only spread anger and hate." It has stopped many and, yes, sometimes it spreads anger and hate.

Does free speech include the right to film you on public streets and report to strangers where you go and why you went there?
posted by ?! at 5:31 PM on February 27, 2003


?!

With a few restrictions, yes you can say whatever you want to anybody in a public place.

That doesn't mean you should be free of worry about physical responses, but if there is one, it would generally be assault and they'd be the one in trouble.

Also, yes, generally, you can tape people all you want in public places and tell whomever you want about what you taped. There are exceptions, especially if you try to make commercial use of what you tape.

Where does free speech end? Theoretically, it is almost unlimited. You can not say something that you should reasonably expect will result in direct physical injury to others. In the classic example, you can't falsely shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater, because the resulting panic/injuries were a reasonable result. Further, commercial speech is heavily regulated. Also, there is a concept of "fighting words" that is vague and of uncertain validity with the Supreme Court that says you should not be able to say things that are so heinous or hurtful that it would incite a reasonable person to physical violence.

Under this idea, you wouldn't might not be allowed to walk up to a black person and say "you stupid nigger, the only proper place for you is on your knees polishing my shoes; I suggest you start now."

You can not verbally threaten someone with physical violence.

Free speech is restricted in certain relationships between people to prevent such things as sexual discrimination in the workplace (a boss can not say to a subordinate "I would like you to perform oral sex on me.")

But these are all very limited restrictions (though some of them have a habit of expanding uncomfortably).
posted by obfusciatrist at 5:53 PM on February 27, 2003


Not a straw man, see here.

I looked. No comments there to say that "MIFIers oppose all restrictions on war rallies", just objections to particular, dubiously-justified restrictions on a particular rally. In fact, Hidalgo notes the distinction, along with the fact that the term 'MIFIers' is plain stupid. Sorry, try again.
posted by riviera at 10:56 PM on February 27, 2003


obfusciatrist: Thank you. It just seems American free speech laws can be so darn fluid....as you mention at the end.

I do think the court decision will give some in the movement the false hope they can expand their aggressiveness.
posted by ?! at 5:04 AM on February 28, 2003


I looked. No comments there to say that "MIFIers oppose all restrictions on war rallies", just objections to particular, dubiously-justified restrictions on a particular rally. In fact, Hidalgo notes the distinction, along with the fact that the term 'MIFIers' is plain stupid. Sorry, try again.

Opposing an injunction, which is clearly within the power of the District Court to grant, which still allowed the marchers to march, but only on a different street and still very close to the UN. Is that dubiously justified? I guess instead of reading the law or even the opinion you issued a knee-jerk reaction. I guess you should read the law instead of your own troll. I would suggest Hague v. Committee for Indus. Organization for starters then I'd suggest Cox v. Louisiana and then Ward v. Rock Against Racism, and Forsyth Country v. The Nationalist Movement, Carew-Reid v. Metropolitan Transp. Auth., and on and on...How was the case in NYC or this case differ or is similar the above cases? Please elaborate, if you'd like my opinion (and it will surprise you Riviera how close we are on this issue) and further discussion on the ambiguous contours of this fluid issue please e-mail me.

Enjoining the march to certain streets is reasonable and opposing such a reasonable request tends show that at least most MIFIers don't know squat about the applicable law, and do oppose any restriction. Riviera, thanks for playing sparkie, try again next time.

P.S. Riviera I highly suggest you read Madsen v. Woman’s Health Center Inc. so you know that law and understand that Casey (Roe is no longer really the controlling president) is not under attack. This way you can know the law and not mere ravings. Further I ask how can Casey be under attack when Madsen dealt with injunctions, common law property rights and free speech and Casey (and Roe) dealt privacy and liberty issues? Abortion is hot button issue, but Madsen dealt with issues (just as the instant case) wholly apart from the issue that prevents states from regulating abortion. Riviera your work is cut out for you.

P.P.S. Point in fact: Thank Zeus that since Clinton appointed a lot of lower court judges the Federal Judiciary remains sufficiency liberal and can create tools to balance these interests that comport with the law better than Civil Rico.
posted by Bag Man at 10:13 AM on March 2, 2003


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