The RICO Act
In 1986, the National Organization of Women (NOW) engaged the Pro-Life Action League, Operation Rescue, and several associated individuals in a lawsuit under the RICO Act because they allegedly blockaded abortion clinic entrances. Two years later they were found guilty of 21 counts of extortion and ordered to pay various fines and damages of over $250,000.
Upon NOW’s victory, abortion clinics across the United States were encouraged to sue similar pro-life groups under the RICO Act. NOW’s victory was temporary, and was lost in appeals because the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the act can only be used against organizations when extortion is used for financial gain.
The appeals process continued in 1993, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Circuit Court’s decision and allowed the lawsuit to proceed. They ruled that any person or organization qualified as an “enterprise” and that the defendants had indeed “conspired to shut down abortion clinics through a pattern of racketeering activity..."
It appeared that the pro-abortion movement had gained a huge benefit in the recent RICO Act rulings; they would be able to target pro-life groups and bankrupt them out of existence. It wasn’t to be, though. In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that RICO could not be used against peaceful abortion clinic protestors. National Organization for Women v. Scheidler 114 S. Ct. 798 was dropped, as were the monetary damages. RICO, a terribly broad-based act, is now powerless against the majority of cases that can be brought against pro-life organizations.
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