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State

Judge finds in favor of abortion protesters

CHICAGO (AP) - A federal judge issued a final judgment Tuesday reiterating what the U.S. Supreme Court said more than a year ago - that federal extortion and racketeering laws cannot be used against anti-abortion protesters. The judgment from U.S. District Judge David Coar cites the 8-0 decision by the high court in February 2006 that sides with defendants, including Chicago-based anti-abortion leader Joseph Scheidler. "We were very happy to have it over with," Scheidler, national director of the Pro-Life Action League, told The Associated Press. "It's been 21 years now of being under the gun." The legal fight began in 1986, when the National Organization for Women filed a class-action suit challenging tactics used by Scheidler's group to block women from entering abortion clinics. NOW's strategy was a novel one, relying on civil provisions of the 1970 Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which was used predominantly in criminal cases against organized crime. After three hearings before the Supreme Court, justices eventually decided that RICO cannot be used against abortion clinic protesters. Coar's ruling Tuesday also vacates a 1999 injunction against Scheidler's group and others. NOW did not immediately return telephone messages left after business hours by The Associated Press. After last year's Supreme Court ruling, NOW president Kim Gandy said the decision was disappointing because the 1999 injunction had decreased violence outside clinics nationally. Scheidler said Tuesday's ruling gives abortion protesters more freedom by removing the threat of RICO lawsuits. "It's really about free speech," he said. The cases are Scheidler v. NOW, 04-1244, and Operation Rescue v. NOW, 04-1352. The cases are Scheidler v. NOW, 04-1244, and Operation Rescue v. NOW, 04-1352. --- On the Net: Supreme Court: http://www.supremecourtus.gov Pro-Life Action League: http://www.prolifeaction.org/ National Organization for Women: http://www.now.org/

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