CHICAGO (AP) A federal judge ordered national anti-abortion leaders to pay more than $257,000 in damages and to stop interfering with the operation of abortion clinics across the country.
U.S. District Judge David Coar on Friday barred the leaders from blocking clinic doors and driveways, damaging clinic property and threatening violence against doctors and patients anywhere in the nation for the next 12 years.
In a 36-page opinion, Coar said that the right of abortion opponents to express their views is protected by the Constitution, but "a number of their means -- destroying property and threatening violence -- are not.''
Those named as defendants were Joseph Scheidler, head of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, the league itself, Operation Rescue and two other activists, Andrew Scholberg and Timothy Murphy. Coar's order stems from a landmark trial that ended in April 1998 in which the National Organization for Women and two abortion clinics sued the defendants.
The verdict came in the first nationwide class-action lawsuit filed against the anti-abortion movement under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a 1970 law originally aimed at breaking up the mafia.
Coar ordered the defendants to pay damages totaling $257,780 to the two clinics, the Delaware Women's Health Organization Inc. of Wilmington and Summit Women's Health Organization Inc. of Milwaukee. The amount represented a tripling of the damages that were awarded to the clinics by the jury -- a procedure required under the federal RICO act.
A jury found that the defendants banded together in a nationwide extortion campaign based on violence and threats designed to force clinics to close. Coar's order amounted to a decision on money damages and how to prevent a recurrence.
It can be enforced nationwide by any law enforcement official or judge, and violation could result in a jail term.
"This injunction is marvelous,'' said Fay Clayton, attorney for the National Organization for Women. "It's nationwide, it's powerful, it's long-lasting and it's clear.''
Scheidler brushed aside the injunction, saying, "There's nothing on there that we're prohibited from doing that we've been doing.''
As for clinic blockades, he said, "I haven't done that for years ... I do encourage people to be activists. I don't encourage them to break the law.''
While the two clinics get damages under Coar's decision, he turned down a NOW request for a series of trials at which other clinics and individuals would be able to try to get damages as well. Clayton said after the damages and the plaintiffs' attorney's fees are paid, anti-abortion leaders may be broke anyway.