NOW v. Scheidler Moving Quickly

by Lisa Bennett-Haigney

As a Republican Congress and the Christian Coalition gear up their assault on Roe v. Wade, NOW and other reproductive rights advocates are winning key battles against anti-abortion terrorists in the courts.

NOW's class-action suit, NOW v. Scheidler, has picked up speed since January 1994, when the U.S. Supreme Court held that those engaged in organized, illegal anti-abortion violence and extortion may be sued under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

On Sept. 22 of this year, U.S. District Judge David Coar opened discovery, allowing NOW to investigate the defendants' conspiratory activities, and on Nov. 6 he granted NOW permission to take depositions from several people currently incarcerated, as well as other conspirators unnamed in the suit.

The NOW team, or "squadron" as Joseph Scheidler calls them, immediately prepared subpoenas for Paul Hill, Rachelle "Shelley" Shannon, Joe Foreman and John Burt. Fay Clayton of Chicago, lead counsel for the NOW Foundation in the lawsuit, hoped to have all four subpoenas served by the middle of December and conspirators deposed within a month thereafter.

The next wave of depositions for NOW will include Flip Benham, Andrew Burnett, Keith Tucci and Don Treshman. Discovery will also include obtaining documents and taking additional depositions from the defendants regarding their recent anti-abortion involvements.

Clayton expects this stage of litigation to help in establishing connections between the defendants and the recent escalation of violence against women's health clinics. A key focus of the investigation will be the newly formed American Coalition of Life Activists and the signers of Paul Hill's "justifiable homicide" petition.

The case, which began with a clinic invasion in 1986, may finally get to trial in the summer of 1996.

A Texas jury awarded an obstetrician/gynecologist and his wife $8.6 million in damages Oct. 25 in what is reportedly the largest payment to an individual in a case against anti-abortion terrorists.

Dr. Norman Tompkins and his wife, Carolyn Tompkins were the victims of more than 10 months of harassment and intimidation by Operation Rescue, Missionaries to the Pre-Born, and the Dallas Pro-Life Action Network. Dr. Tompkins eventually quit his practice and the couple moved from their Dallas home.

After eight days of testimony and four days of deliberation the jury found the anti-abortion groups liable for $3.6 million in punitive damages, $2.25 million for intentionally inflicting emotional distress, and $2.8 million for invading the Tompkins' privacy.

On the same date as the award, two Oregon reproductive health care facilities and five physicians filed a class action suit against two anti-abortion groups and more than a dozen activists. The suit charges that the groups' activities have violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), as well as RICO and Oregon's anti-racketeering statute.

Return to January 1996 National NOW Times
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