A prominent pro-life leader faces a judge this morning in Cook County Court, in what appears to be an unfounded case of criminal trespass.
Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League and the son of long-time pro-life leader Joseph Scheidler, had organized a protest April 15 against Planned Parenthood, as the abortion giant held a fundraiser in the Ballroom at Chicago’s Navy Pier. The protest was held on public property near the pier’s entrance.
At one point during the evening, Scheidler left the other protesters behind and walked onto the pier. He was confronted by a security guard; but the guard, after consulting with his superior officer, granted Scheidler permission to walk down the pier alone and without any protest signs. Scheidler complied. However, Scheidler was arrested by Chicago police as he was about to exit the pier property and was charged with trespassing.
The case is being heard this morning in the Circuit Court of Cook County, by Associate Judge Clarence Lewis Burch. Scheidler is being defended by Peter Breen, Special Counsel, and Corrina Konczal, Associate Counsel for the non-profit Thomas More Society.
According to Illinois law, the crime of “criminal trespass to land” is a misdemeanor offense that can lead to up to a year in jail, hundreds of dollars in fines and fees, and civil liability.
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The Pro-Life Action League, which was founded in 1980 with the goal of ending abortion, has been in court before.
In 1986, the National Organization for Women filed suit against Joe Scheidler and other PLAN members, under the RICO anti-racketeering laws. That case was later expanded to include Operation Rescue and its founder, Randall Terry. (Terry, facing $100,000 in costs from other abortion clinic-related charges, would later agree in 1998 to a permanent personal injunction.)
In 1994, the FACE (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act) went into effect, making it illegal to use force or intimidation to block access to reproductive health care facilities.
In 1997, NOW was granted class-action status by the district court, permitting the pro-abortion lobby group to represent all women seeking reproductive health care.In 1998, after a 7-week trial, PLAN was found guilty of racketeering. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which said in its reversal of the case in 2006:
“…a six-member jury concluded that petitioners violated the civil provisions of RICO. By answering a series of special interrogatory questions, the jury found, inter alia, that petitioners’ alleged “pattern of racketeering activity” included 21 violations of the Hobbs Act, 18 U. S. C. §1951; 25 violations of state extortion law; 25 instances of attempting or conspiring to commit either federal or state extortion; 23 violations of the Travel Act, 18 U. S. C. §1952; and 23 instances of attempting to violate the Travel Act. The jury awarded $31,455.64 to respondent, the National Women’s Health Organization of Delaware, Inc., and $54,471.28 to the National Women’s Health Organization of Summit, Inc. These damages were trebled pursuant to §1964(c). Additionally, the District Court entered a permanent nationwide injunction prohibiting petitioners from obstructing access to the clinics, trespassing on clinic property, damaging clinic property, or using violence or threats of violence against the clinics, their employees, or their patients.”
The case was appealed again to the Seventh Circuit Court, on grounds which included violations of the First Amendment right to free speech. That court tried to remand the case to the lower court, but the defendants appealed to the Supreme Court, on the grounds that the Seventh Circuit was ignoring the 2003 decision. The defendants also asked the Supreme Court to decide whether the Hobbs Act prohibits non-extortive violence, and to decide the still-open question of whether the law generally entitled private parties to injunctive relief in RICO cases.
Finally, on February 28, 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a unanimous (8-0) ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in the case of Scheidler vs. the National Organization for Women. The Court held that the Hobbs Act did not cover violence unrelated to robbery or extortion. The Court also noted that Congress’s 1994 passage of FACE indicated that Congress did not view RICO as pertaining to this area. For the first time in 20 years, Joe Scheidler, his family and the pro-life organization he founded, were free.
Image: By Jessica Curiel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons