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High Court rules on abortion protests

The Supreme Court's ruling today on abortion protest is a setback for abortion groups, taking away a powerful weapon they had used against organized protesters who blocked clinic entrances and whose demonstrations sometimes turned violent.

But there's been a significant development since the National Organization for Women (NOW) began its legal campaign against abortion protesters: Congress passed the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) law, which makes it a crime to engage in some of the behavior the women's groups originally targeted.


Even so, women's groups are sure to see the ruling as a blow for two reasons. First, it takes away a weapon they used to strike at the finances of abortion protesters, by suing for money damages. And second, many women's groups find FACE unsatisfying, because it depends on the willingness of local prosecutors to invoke it.

The landscape has changed somewhat, though, from what it was when this legal battle began 20 years ago. The number of abortions performed every year has declined, and the frequency and virulence of protests have diminished somewhat.

Today's ruling was unanimous (8-0, with Alito sitting it out). The court said Congress never intended federal racketeering laws to cover such a wide range of behavior. And the abortion protesters had the support of organized labor, which feared that a ruling for NOW could have exposed labor unions to lawsuits when they picketed and demonstrated at job sites.