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A federal appeals court Tuesday upheld a jury’s finding that abortion foes violated racketeering law with their violent demonstrations outside clinics, rejecting arguments that the protesters were merely exercising freedom of speech. In a 3-0 ruling, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the demonstrators had gone beyond free speech. “Protesters trespassed on clinic property and blocked access to clinics with their bodies, including at times chaining themselves in the doorways of clinics or to operating tables,” said Circuit Judge Diane P. Wood. “At other times, protesters destroyed clinic property, including putting glue in clinic door locks and destroying medical equipment used to perform abortions. On still other occasions, protesters physically assaulted clinic staff and patients.” The National Organization for Women and abortion clinics in Milwaukee and Wilmington, Del., had sued anti-abortion organizations under federal racketeering law to combat what they described as violent tactics. Following the 1998 verdict, U.S. District Judge David Coar barred the defendants from trespassing, setting up blockades or behaving violently at abortion clinics for 10 years. He also ordered them to pay $257,780 in damages. Before the case went to trial, the U.S. Supreme Court held that anti-abortion demonstrators could be sued under RICO, the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act that was created to fight the Mafia. NOW attorney Fay Clayton, who filed the lawsuit in 1986, hailed the appeals court ruling as a landmark in the abortion-rights cause. “It seems so foolish that we would be having a debate over whether these childish, cruel, nasty tactics would go on under our system of government,” she said. The defendants included Operation Rescue and the Pro-Life Action League, whose director, Joseph Scheidler, said the defendants would take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. “Our so-called foolish tactics are to talk a woman out of killing her baby,” Scheidler said. “Clayton may think it’s foolish, but we intend to keep right on doing it.” Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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