Antiabortion Ruling: Was It Right?

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Who’s afraid of RICO? The 28-year-old Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Law, intended for the mob, made its presence felt in the antiabortion movement Monday. A Chicago court found three pro-life leaders liable for creating an atmosphere conducive to violence, and ordered them to pay nearly $86,000 to the abortion clinics where they protested. The campaigners vow to appeal, but the case looks likely to open the legal floodgates. “With a verdict in their favor,” says TIME Chicago bureau chief Wendy Cole, “the plaintiffs can now seek a permanent nationwide injunction” -- which would prevent the Pro-Life Action League and Operation Rescue from protesting any clinic in the country.

While some cheered the outcome, there was unease about using an anti-mob law to fight abortion activists. “Everybody who loves the First Amendment has got to sleep uneasily tonight,” said G. Robert Blakely, the Notre Dame professor who drafted RICO for the Nixon administration back in 1970. But for Susan Hill, president of the Chicago abortion clinics, the ends justified the means. “I feel safer than I did yesterday,” she said. In the end, RICO may be remembered as the tool that allowed the two sides of America’s hottest debate to respectfully disagree.