Court Upholds Clinic Law

Travelers pass behind a police officer with an automatic weapon at the British Airways terminal at JFK International Airport in New York, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2006. Passengers in the U.S. are facing heightened security at airports after authorities in London uncovered a terror plot aimed at airlines traveling from Britain to the U.S.
AP Photo/Ed Betz
Anti-abortion rights protesters from New Jersey lost a Supreme Court challenge to a federal law protecting access to abortion clinics.

The court, without comment Monday, turned down the protesters' argument that Congress overstepped its authority to regulate interstate commerce when it enacted the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

The law bans the use of force, threats or blockades to interfere with access to reproductive health care, including abortions. It was enacted in response to numerous violent incidents at abortion clinics across the nation, including bombings, arson, clinic invasions and murder.

The justices previously rejected several other challenges to the measure.

The appeal denied Monday argued that the clinic-access law must be thrown out following last year's Supreme Court ruling that barred rape victims from suing their attackers in federal court. In that case, the justices said Congress went beyond its interstate-commerce authority when it created a federal remedy for rape victims.

Monday's case arose from three anti-abortion rights blockades at Metropolitan Medical Associates, a reproductive health clinic in Englewood, N.J., during 1996 and 1997. In each case, the protesters were removed by police.

In April 1997, the federal government sued about 30 people who took part in the blockades. Saying the protesters violated the clinic-access law, government lawyers sought financial damages and a court ban on future blockades.

A federal judge ruled largely for the government, barring the protesters from blocking access to the clinic or trying to intimidate anyone entering the clinic. The judge ordered the protesters to pay $15,000 in damages but refused the government's request for additional damages or a 60-foot buffer zone at the clinic.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling last September. The court said the clinic-access law was valid because a "national movement" of blockades had contributed to a shortage of abortion-related services in many areas of the country.

The appeals court said the law met the standards set by the Supreme Court a few months earlier in the case involving rape victims. The justices had said gender-motivated violence was not economic activity and the proper remedy was in state court, not federal court.

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In the appeal acted on Monday, the protesters' lawyers said the clinic-access law represented "an overreaching by Congress, enacted in a time of pro-abortion hysteria when even peaceful protests were viewed as posing an intolerable threat to public order."

Justice Department lawyers said the clinic-access law was a "national solution to a national problem" of anti-abortion rights blockades and violence that irectly affected the availability of abortion services.

In other action Monday:

  • The Supreme Court let a lower court decision stand that allowed air pollution standards for Indian land that are tougher than the rules for adjacent state land. The state of Michigan and business groups had asked the court to roll back 1998 EPA rules allowing tribes to set pollution standards for areas held by tribes but not part of a reservation.
  • The court postponed Tuesday's scheduled execution of Walter Mickens, who was convicted in the 1992 Virginia murder of a 17-year-old boy. The justices have agreed to consider if Mickens got a fair trial when he was represented by a lawyer, Bryan Saunders, who had earlier represented the victim.
  • The court turned away a claim a husband-and-wife team of spies that the federal government used health information to catch the two, withheld information on their bugging system and accused them of stealing secrets that were public. Former Pentagon lawyer Theresa M. Squillacote is serving a 22-year sentence and former labor union representative Kurt A. Stand is doing 17 years after being convicted in 1998 of spying.
  • The court refused to let California jail inmates testify anonymously in the murder trial of two fellow prisoners. Prosecutors said the inmates needed to keep their names secret to protect their safety.
  • The court agreed to hear a pair of Americans with Disabilities Act cases. One involves a worker at a Toyota plant in Kentucky who says she is partly disabled but still able to perform some duties. The other involves a US Airways employee in San Francisco who says his disability entitles him to buck a company seniority system in order to transfer to a job he is able to perform.

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