1986 abortion case ends with $63k award to pro-life group

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With the words, “at last it is over,” a panel of federal judges have ruled that a national feminist group must pay a pro-life leader and his allies for costs associated with a court battle that began in 1986.

“This suit began 28 years ago and has been to the Supreme Court three times,” Judge Frank H. Easterbrook of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in a case that pitted the National Organization for Women (NOW) against Joseph M. Scheidler and allies in the Pro-Life Action League.

Judge Easterbrook, with colleagues Judge William J. Bauer and Judge David F. Hamilton, affirmed a district court ruling requiring NOW and its co-plaintiffs to pay $63,391.45 to Mr. Scheidler and his co-defendants.

These costs are “modest,” amounting to “less than $2,300 per year of litigation,” the judges wrote in their ruling, which was decided Tuesday less than two weeks after a hearing.

NOW lawyers had argued that they shouldn’t have to pay any court costs since the costs were not properly requested, weren’t proven to be part of the case, and because the pro-life defendants neglected to “pester” the district judge to act on the case before he retired.

The appellate judges rejected all these arguments, noting that “judicial delay does not wipe out a litigant’s rights.”

“This litigation has last far too long. At last it is over,” they concluded.

Mr. Scheidler called the ruling “long-awaited good news.”

NOW did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The historic case was built around NOW’s claims that the Chicago-based pro-life group — which promoted sidewalk protests, vigils and counseling around the nation — was a national conspiracy aimed at using threats, violence and other illegal means to block women from getting legal abortions.

In 1994, the Supreme Court affirmed that the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act could apply to nonprofit groups and sent the case back to lower courts.

Subsequent rulings found Mr. Scheidler and his co-defendants guilty of RICO abuses and ordered them to pay at least $257,000 to the NOW plaintiffs. But in 2003, the Supreme Court reversed the rulings in favor of the pro-life defendants.

The case came back to the Supreme Court a third time over RICO claims, and in 2006, the high court unanimously ruled that the case be dismissed on its merits.

Since then — until Tuesday’s decision — the parties have been in court to determine what court costs the pro-lifers could recover from NOW and its co-plaintiffs.

Tom Brejcha, who founded the Thomas More Society in 1997 to help defend Mr. Scheidler and his allies, said Wednesday that the ruling marked “a long-awaited, hopefully final victory for millions of pro-lifers here and around the country.”

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About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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