High Court rules…

On January 13, 1993, the Supreme Court ruled in Bray v. Alexandria Women’s Health Cinic that the Ku Klux Klan Act is not applicable to pro-life activists engaged in Operation Rescue.

The federal statute at issue was 42 U.S.C. section 1985 (3) which was based on an Act passed in 1871 to protect blacks from the Ku Klux Klan during the reconstruction era. The law prohibits persons from conspiring “for the purpose of depriving…persons of equal protection of the laws.”

The facts of the case are straightforward. In 1989, Operation Rescue announced plans to demonstrate in the Washington D.C. area. Abortion clinics and pro-abortion groups sought and received an injunction in Federal District Court barring Operation Rescue from trespassing on or obstructing access to abortion facilities in certain, named counties in Virginia, and cities in the Washington, D.C. area. The court ruled that Operation Rescue had violated §1985 (3) by conspiring to deprive women seeking abortions of their right to interstate travel. The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed.

In reversing this decision, Justice Scalia, writing for the Supreme Court, noted that in order to prove a conspiracy in violation of § 1985 (3), a plaintiff must show “some racial, or perhaps otherwise class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus [lay] behind the conspirators’ action” and that the conspiracy “aimed at interfering with rights” that are “protected against private, as well as official, encroachment.”

The Court rejected the District Court’s conclusion that opposition to abortion constitutes discrimination against the “class” of “women seeking abortion.” The Court ruled that while the animus requirement of the statute demands a “purpose that focuses upon women by reason of their sex…the record in this case does not indicate that petitioners’ demonstrations are motivated by a purpose (malevolent or benign) directed specifically at women as a class; to the contrary, the District Court found that petitioners define their ‘rescues’ not with reference women, but as physical intervention ‘between abortionists and the innocent victims.'”

Plaintiffs also failed to prove the second requirement under § 1985 (3), impairment of rights protected against private as well as official action. The Court rejected the argument that Operation Rescue demonstrations violate the right ofinterstate travel, stating that these demonstrations oppose abortion, not interstate travel, and, in fact, do not implicate that right.

In conclusion, the Court noted that “trespassing upon private property is unlawful in all States, as is, in many States and localities, intentionally obstructing the entrace to private premises. These offenses may be prosecuted criminally under state law, and may also be the basis for state civil damages. They do not, however, give rise to a federal cause of action simply because their objective is to prevent the performance of abortions, any more than they do so (as we have held) when their objective is to stifle free speech.”

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