NOW Breaks Class Action Barrier in Scheidler Case

by Kim Gandy,
Executive Vice President

NOW is making history once again with its NOW v. Scheidler lawsuit. For the first time, a federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit against anti-abortion terrorists can be brought as a class action, which has important repercussions for all women in this country.

U.S. District Judge David Coar of Chicago approved NOW as the class plaintiff, representing not only all NOW members but also, in Judge Coar's words, "the class of all women who are not NOW members and whose rights to the services of women's health centers in the United States at which abortions are performed have been or will be interfered with by defendants' unlawful activities."

Case Background

After reviewing hundreds of cases of arson, bombing and extortion, and on the heels of a March 1986 clinic invasion that injured the director and a NOW chapter officer at a Pensacola clinic, NOW leadership concluded that these actions were a coordinated national effort to close abortion clinics by violent means.

Eleanor Smeal, NOW's president at the time, urged clinic owner Susan Hill to join the case saying: "If we don't do something, they're going to start killing us." With those prescient words, NOW launched this precedent-setting litigation against Joe Scheidler, his Pro-Life Action League and several of his cronies under the federal anti-trust laws, alleging a conspiracy in restraint of interstate commerce.

Representation of the class plaintiffs was assumed in 1994 by the NOW Foundation as part of its "Stop the Rescue Racket" litigation project.

Supreme Court Victory, New Preparations

In the fall of 1988 NOW expanded the case to include Operation Rescue and its leader Randall Terry, and added several additional counts under the federal racketeering law, the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). And in 1993 the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously gave NOW the go-ahead to use that law, which had been designed to reach mob kingpins.

NOW will use RICO to stop those anti-abortion leaders who may not have lit the match or pulled the trigger, but who nonetheless created and backed the enterprise that instigated the violence.

Judge Coar seems determined that, after 11 years of litigation, NOW v. Scheidler will finally go to trial this summer. With the help of NOW's excellent attorney, Fay Clayton, her firm, and dozens of pro bono attorneys and legal interns, NOW's legal team has done extensive discovery and pre-trial preparation. They have compiled a voluminous trial database on the defendants, their co-conspirators, their organizations and their actions.

In the last few months NOW's attorneys have taken depositions of many abortion foes, including Randall Terry and Flip Benham, former heads of Operation Rescue; Paul Hill, convicted murderer of Dr. David Gunn; and Shelley Shannon, who was convicted of shooting Dr. George Tiller.

Trial Strategy Includes Fund Raising

NOW is working with top attorneys to present the strongest possible case and to avoid incurring any expenses that are not absolutely critical. For that reason NOW and its attorneys are now determining which of the defendants' many criminal acts they will present at trial.

NOW Foundation is also feverishly raising funds for trial costs, as well as to bring in witnesses from clinics across the country, to provide research for pro bono experts in jury selection and to create compelling courtroom graphics.

You can assist in this critical, historic trial by making tax-deductible contributions to NOW Foundation. For information or to make a gift to support this case, call NOW Foundation at 202-628-8669 and ask for Kim Gandy, ext. 126, or Johanna Ettin, ext. 130.

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