Racketeers without a racket
SUPREME COURT | Justices to review verdict against abortion protests
Are pro-life protesters who block abortion clinics extortionists? The Supreme Court decided to answer that question last week when it agreed to review National Organization for Women vs. Scheidler, the 1998 case in which radical feminists successfully argued that pro-life protesters were guilty of racketeering under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The 1998 trial followed a 1994 Supreme Court ruling that allowed use of federal racketeering laws against political protesters who lack an economic motive. Defendants included the Pro-Life Action League and Operation Rescue. NOW won a RICO judgment of $258,000 and a nationwide injunction against certain types of abortion clinic demonstrations. The pro-life defendants argue that protesters who blocked clinic entrances, chained themselves to clinic gurneys, and tried verbally to persuade abortion workers to give up their grisly trade were not guilty of extortion because they did not obtain any property. Federal law defines extortion as the taking of property through threats or violence. The defendants also argue that RICO lets the government seek injunctions, but not private groups such as NOW. A three-judge, U.S. Court of Appeals panel in Chicago affirmed the NOW vs. Scheidler verdict last October. Some on the left, such as activists from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, actor-activist Martin Sheen, and Roy Bourgeois, founder of the School of the Americas Watch, regard NOW vs. Scheidler as a threat to their own protest actions, and they've filed amicus briefs in support of the pro-life groups.
CONGRESS | House passes, Senate delays child custody bill
On Capitol Hill, the Senate is expected to add the Child Custody Protection Act to its warehouse of neglected House-passed legislation. The bill, which passed the House on April 17 by a vote of 260-161, would make it a federal crime to take a minor across state lines for an abortion to circumvent parental consent laws. Twenty-seven states have such laws, but adults have routinely transported minors to other states for abortions. "Right now, parents in Charlotte must grant permission before the school nurse gives their child an aspirin, but parents can't prevent a stranger from taking their child out of school and up to Maryland for an abortion," said Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.).
RU-486 | Two die after taking drug
Mifeprex, one half of the RU-486 abortion-inducing combination, may be killing more than unborn children. Danco Laboratories, the maker of Mifeprex, sent a letter informing doctors that six women have developed serious illnesses and two have died after taking the drug, although the letter cautioned that no causal relationship between the drug and the medical problems has been established. Three of the women suffered bleeding from ruptures of ectopic pregnancies, which are located in the fallopian tubes instead of the uterus, and are not eliminated by RU-486. One of them died. Two others developed bacterial infections, and one of them died. The sixth woman had a heart attack three days after taking the drug. The Food and Drug Administration approved RU-486 in September 2000.
MEDIA | Try some reporting, Houston Chronicle
Maybe we published our "Christians-as-Taliban" special issue (May/June, 2002) one week early. The latest press attack on House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) is a perfect example of the ignorance and bigotry that WORLD highlighted. Mr. DeLay, speaking to and responding to questions from a church group near Houston, listened to a parent's criticism of teaching at major Texas universities and request for advice. Mr. DeLay responded, "Don't send your kids to Baylor. And don't send your kids to A&M. There are still some Christian schools out there-good, solid schools. Now, they may be little, they may not be as prestigious as Stanford, but your kids will get a good, solid, godly education." You'd think a newspaper that emphasizes the need for diversity would welcome such a declaration. But the Houston Chronicle jumped all over Mr. DeLay in two loaded news articles and an editorial. "FANATIC," the editorial declared as it decried Mr. DeLay's "fanatical desire to transform American government into a theocracy." Down, boy! The Houston-area congressman was not saying that Baylor and Texas A&M should be closed down, or even that the number of their football scholarships should be reduced. He was emphasizing choice. Which, by the way, leads to a comment on the choice made by the Chronicle. The newspaper, not having thought the DeLay event important enough to warrant a reporter's presence, relied on a tape and story line given it by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Should a mighty newspaper be a lapdog spoon-fed by an interest group? What ever happened to pavement-pounding reporters?
CHINA | Armitage "very hopeful" on funds for UNFPA
The U.S. government is currently holding up taxpayer funds for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) over its support for forced abortions and sterilizations in communist China ("Volunteer ... or else," WORLD, Feb. 2), but perhaps not for much longer. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told a House subcommittee on April 18 that a U.S. delegation will leave early this month on a two-week tour to determine whether the UNFPA's programs in China support coerced abortions. Bill Brown, a Chinese speaker and former ambassador to Israel under the first President Bush and ambassador to Thailand during Ronald Reagan's second term, will lead the delegation. Mr. Armitage told the panel that a British delegation "went recently on a similar-type mission and came back with actually very positive things to say." But official inspections are often accompanied every step of the way by Chinese bureaucrats who can scare away grievances. Pro-life activists groaned at Mr. Armitage's eager expression that the panel should quickly give the State Department a green light: "I am very hopeful that they will come back very rapidly and allow us to spend ... $34 million for UNFPA activities."
CLONING | Opponents of research cloning optimistic as the Senate prepares to vote
First, the anti-cloning forces canvassed the three Senate office buildings on April 10. Last week, the biotech lobby fanned out across Capitol Hill's north side to preach the medical potential of "therapeutic cloning." Now that both sides are lobbying hard, Majority Leader Tom Daschle announced plans to hold a vote on a cloning ban by May 24 (see p. 16). While the anti-cloning forces have only one bill, a total ban proposed by Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), research cloning supporters in the Senate have three, introduced, respectively, by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.), and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.). In a sign of the political impact of the cloning issue, the group Stop Human Cloning released the results of a national survey in which 63 percent of respondents supported President Bush's opposition to both reproductive cloning and research cloning to harvest stem cells. The survey also found that Americans are three times less likely to vote for a candidate that supports the cloning of human embryos for medical research (60 percent "less likely" versus 21 percent "more likely").
A killer story
CRIME | CNN's ratings rise on coverage of Blake murder case
Is Robert Blake the next O.J. Simpson? While the former Baretta star's case may not equal the media circus that Mr. Simpson's case became, the case has produced a similar result for CNN: higher ratings. Faced with increased competition and decreasing dominance, this may come as an unexpected happy surprise for a cable network struggling behind upstart Fox News. After the 68-year-old was charged with murdering his wife, CNN scored its highest ratings of the year. "It was a Hollywood murder mystery," Mary Lynn Ryan, managing editor of CNN/U.S., said. "It had all the elements that people find fascinating and seamy." Mr. Blake allegedly gunned down Bonny Lee Bakley after a dinner outing last year. After the story broke, CNN flew Bakley's sister, Margerry, from her Knoxville, Tenn., home to Los Angeles, and then sequestered her from other reporters. The network then featured interviews with her on Paula Zahn's morning show, Talkback Live, and Larry King Live. Fox News' Shepard Smith remarked on-air that another network "bought and paid for" access to Margerry Bakley.