Abortion clinic blockades due high court look Narrow application of 1871 law, foes of abortion argue

October 07, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Lawyers for the Bush administration and the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue are urging the Supreme Court to declare that federal judges have no power to break up human blockades of abortion clinics.

Department of Justice attorney John Roberts Jr. said yesterday that the administration does not defend the tactics of Operation Rescue and other anti-abortion groups that block access to clinics, but he argued the issue should be left to state courts.

At issue is whether a post-Civil War measure known as the Ku Klux Klan Act can be applied to the modern-day fight over abortion. In recent years, federal judges across the nation have invoked the 1871 law to order a halt to clinic blockades.

However, Bush administration lawyers say that this law covers only instances of a "discriminatory animus" against a distinct group of people, such as racial attacks on blacks.

Operation Rescue's members "are perfectly non-discriminatory in their opposition to abortion," Mr. Roberts told the court. "They are opposed to abortion, not women."

Deborah Ellis of the National Organization for Women's Legal Defense Fund said that Operation Rescue was engaged in "a nationwide systematic conspiracy" to prevent women from exercising their right to choose abortion.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Patrick Kelly in Wichita, Kan., used the law as a basis for ordering federal marshals to break up abortion clinics blockades there.

The justices apparently are closely split on the issue. The case (Bray vs. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic, 90-985) was first argued last October, before Justice Clarence Thomas took his seat. In May, the court issued a brief announcement saying that it wanted to hear a second round of arguments. That raises a strong possibility that Justice Thomas will hold the deciding vote.

However, Justice Thomas asked no questions at yesterday's session.

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