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Anti-abortion protests before the Supreme Court.
I have picketed the local Planned Parenthood on and off for the past eight years, so I read with interest that the Supreme Court is again considering whether or not the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) can be applied to anti-abortion protesters. (See articles on CNN.com, Fox News, Pro-Life Blogs, World Net Daily and the First Amendment Center.)
This is something all activists, on any issue, should be watching closely. If the Supreme Court changes its mind again and decides RICO can be applied to pro-life activists, then every other political interest group (including people who protest Interstate 69) could be prosecuted under RICO. The Supreme Court needs to clarify that RICO cannot be used to harass people who advocate on political or social issues, because ruling in favor of NOW would set a dangerous precedent.
This is certainly not to say that I do not support aggressive prosecution of people who step over the line in protesting abortion clinic. Violence is unacceptable and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. However, there are already enough laws on the books to deal with anti-abortion protesters who go too far. We do not need to use RICO for something it was never intended to do, especially given the implications for free speech.
Yes, pro-life activists want to shut down abortion clinics. Is that such a bad thing? It would be a good thing if fewer abortion clinics existed, because making it more difficult to get an abortion will save babies' lives. It goes without sayings that efforts to shut down abortion clinics must be done above board and within the law, but the goal itself is a noble one.
One key here is that pro-life activists must restrain themselves. Acts of violence or other criminal activities not only are wrong in an of themselves, they make it more difficult to save lives by discrediting and marginalizing the pro-life community. When anti-abortion activists go too far, it makes it more difficult for other pro-lifers because it encourages an overreaction from government. People who protest Planned Parenthood on Thursday mornings know that they are expected to behave properly by other protesters. We know that we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard.
This lawsuit has gone on for many years and it is time for it to end. If the Supreme Court does not settle this issue in favor of free speech, Congress should be prepared to amend RICO to prohibit the courts from using it to prosecute political activists.