A Real Racket

NOW's scheme to silence abortion protest

On February 27, the day after the Supreme Court handed down its 8-1 decision overturning a federal racketeering conviction of anti-abortion protesters, I happened to get on the New York subway with one of the West Side’s more repugnant prolife demonstrators. A fixture in front of a women’s health clinic not far from Lincoln Center, this elderly man dresses up much like a carnival vendor. He wears-perhaps he sells-all sorts of paraphernalia attached to his fly-fishing vest: tiny baby dolls, flags with slogans, miniature surgical implements. He carries poster-size photographs of mangled fetuses, which he pushes combatively in front of women entering or leaving the clinic. He is clearly a little unhinged, but not unsophisticated. That day he was waving a new handwritten poster emblazoned, "The Supreme Court Has Set Us Free."

He pretty much had it right. The Court’s ruling in the seventeen-year-old case of the National Organization for Women v. Scheidler was indeed a solid victory for protestors-of all stripes-and a crushing defeat for NOW. Oddly, it has received almost no attention in the mainstream press.

With its origins in the volatile blockades and boycotts of the 1980s, NOW’s class action suit against the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN) had been unsettling from the start. Convinced that PLAN headed a national conspiracy of anti-abortion terrorists, NOW hit on the daring legal strategy of suing them...

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About the Author

Julia Vitullo-Martin edited Breaking Away: The Future of Cities (Twentieth Century Fund Press). She was a Vista Volunteer, a civil rights worker, and an antiwar protester during the sixties.