NOW Sues Anti-Abortionists Over Clinic Bombings Desk: SUB 12th graf, bgng: Ms. Andrews, with 2 new grafs to add comment
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The National Organization for Women said Tuesday it has filed a lawsuit against three prominent anti-abortion activists to try to stop what it called ″a reign of terror″ against abortion clinics.
The announcement came just hours after a pipe bomb ripped though an abortion clinic in Wichita, Kan., the latest act of violence in an escalating war over the emotional issue.
The class-action lawsuit, filed Monday in Wilmington, Del., claims the anti-abortion leaders violate federal antitrust laws by inciting their followers to harass and intimidate abortion clinics out of business.
″These fanatics have instituted a reign of terror against women nationwide,″ NOW President Eleanor Cutri Smeal said at a news conference. ″They have used illegal violent tactics to close clinics, including smashing medical equipment, invading clinics and intimidating patients and medical staff.
″This is clearly a nationwide criminal conspiracy, which the federal government has refused to treat as such.″
The Justice Department has declined to investigate abortion-related violence, saying there is no nationwide link to the 34 bombings and 27 arsons at abortion facilities recorded since 1977 by the National Abortion Federation. The federation counted 45 acts of violence in 1982, 54 in 1983, 173 in 1984 and 224 in 1985. The acts ranged from death threats to vandalism to bombings.
The Wichita bombing occurred late Monday night. No one was injured. ″People have certainly said they would shut us down,″ the clinic’s physician, George Tiller, said.
Anti-abortion activists have disavowed any connection to the nationwide violence.
The three defendants, whom Ms. Smeal called ″terrorists,″ are Joe Scheidler of Chicago, Joan Andrews of Newark, Del., and John Patrick Ryan of St. Louis. Also named in the suit are Scheidler’s Pro-Life Action League and Ryan’s Pro-Life Direct Action League.
Scheidler, picketing an abortion conference in Kansas City, issued a statement saying the NOW lawsuit ″is part of a pro-abortion conspiracy to harass the pro-life movement. It will not slow down our efforts. We will simply increase our activities until every unborn child regains his right to life.″
″It’s a witchhunt,″ Ryan said. ″It’s meant to intimidate us, to harass us, to tie us up in court. They admit they’ve not been able to stop us at the local level. I think that’s a tribute to the local activists all over the country. People are sick and tired of these abortionists killing babies in their communities.″
Ms. Andrews, who is in jail in Pensacola, Fla., awaiting trial later this month in connection with a violent anti-abortion demonstration there in March, said lawsuits won’t stop her.
″What they would have to do is put us in jail for the rest of our lives or until the killing stops,″ she said.
″These three are national leaders,″ Ms. Smeal said. ″We know these organizations are spearheading the day-in, day-out harassment campaign.″
The lawsuit seeks a federal court injunction to prevent the three from ″driving women’s health centers that perform abortions out of business through a pattern of concerted, unlawful activity.″
″Since at least 1984, the defendants have agreed and conspired among themselves and with others to drive every clinic ... out of business,″ it said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center of Montgomery, Ala., is representing NOW and two clinics - the Pensacola Ladies Center and the Delaware Women’s Health Organization - in the lawsuit.
The suit was filed in Delaware because it is ″the spot Mr. Scheidler has declared will be the first state to be free of abortions,″ attorney Richard Cohen said.
The unusual antitrust approach is being patterned after a successful SPLC lawsuit that in 1982 protected Vietnamese fishermen in Texas against the Ku Klux Klan’s attempts to drive them out of business.
Ms. Smeal said NOW decided to take nationwide action against the three activists named in the suit because they travel the country stirring up abortion opponents. She said if they are arrested at a particular demonstration, they simply post bail or pay a fine, and move on to another city.
Ryan said he has been arrested almost 350 times, all for misdemeanor or lesser violations; Scheidler’s organization said he has been arrested six times; NOW said Ms. Andrews has been arrested more than 100 times.