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Supreme Court Ruling Setback For Anti-Abortionists Challenge Of Law That Protects Access To Clinics Is Rejected

Tue., June 20, 1995

The Supreme Court rejected a free-speech challenge Monday to the year-old federal law that protects access to abortion clinics.

The justices, without comment, left intact an appeals court ruling in a Virginia case that said the law does not infringe on anyone’s freedom of expression while protecting people who seek or provide abortions.

Eight federal trial judges and two federal appeals courts have upheld the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, but a federal judge in Wisconsin has declared it unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court action did not resolve the issue definitively, but was a setback for anti-abortion activists who say the law aimed at deterring violence and intimidation squelches peaceful protest as well.

Nearing the end of its 1994-95 term, the court also:

Ruled unanimously that the sponsor of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston never should have been forced to let a group of gays participate as marchers.

Rejected an Illinois couple’s attempt to regain custody of a boy, known nationwide as Baby Richard, they raised as their adopted son for nearly four years.

Agreed to decide, sometime in 1996, the fate of a lawsuit in which some 7,000 ex-shareholders say they got shortchanged in Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.’s $6.6 billion takeover of MCA Inc.

Let stand a ruling that required a Little Rock, Ark., couple to tone down their Christmas display, which once featured millions of holiday lights.

Ruled in a Hawaii case that prison inmates aren’t always entitled to a hearing before they are disciplined for misconduct.

In the abortion clinics case, the court refused to hear an appeal filed by Concerned Women for America and one of its members.

But still pending before the justices is a challenge to the clinic-access law by another anti-abortion group, the American Life League.

“Our appeal raises the free-speech issue, but also argues that Congress lacked the authority to enact such legislation because no interstate commerce was involved,” said Marion Harrison, an American Life League lawyer. “We think that’s a hot-ticket issue with the Supreme Court right now.”

The high court in April struck down a federal law that made it a crime to have a gun within 1,000 feet of a public school. The court said Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce didn’t stretch that far.

Abortion rights advocates welcomed Monday’s action.

“FACE has been a highly effective tool against abortion clinic violence,” said Deborah Ellis of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Kate Michelman of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League said the law “does not restrict free speech, but it does punish harmful conduct.”

“Anti-choice protesters must recognize that opposition to abortion is not a license to stalk, bomb, threaten, harass, intimidate or murder doctors and women,” Michelman said.

President Clinton signed the law May 24, 1994. That same day, the two anti-abortion groups sued in Alexandria, Va., in an attempt to have the law invalidated.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema threw out both lawsuits, and the 4th Circuit court upheld her ruling.

Concerned Women’s appeal said the challenged law “is the only federal statute designed to regulate political protests of only one selected movement, the pro-life movement, at one selection site, abortion clinics.”

“It is therefore unconstitutional content- and viewpoint-based discrimination,” the appeal argued.

Justice Department lawyers urged the court to reject the appeal.

They said Congress enacted the law “in response to a nationwide campaign of violent and obstructive interference with access to reproductive health services.”


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