A panel of federal judges unanimously ruled last week to protect the Pro-Life Action League’s ability to recover the costs of a 28-year legal struggle against the National Organization for Women.
The decision assures the pro-life group’s claim to over $60,000 in awards.
"Today we celebrate a long-awaited, hopefully final victory for millions of pro-lifers here and around the country," said Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society in an April 30 statement.
“After nearly 28 years of litigating and three trips to the U.S. Supreme Court, we are proud to declare that pro-lifers' First Amendment rights to free speech and association are once again secure and protected by law.”
The case, N.O.W. v. Scheidler, opened in 1986 when the National Organization for Women and two Delaware abortion clinics filed suit against Joseph Scheidler, Andrew Scholberg, Timothy Murphy, and the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League. The organization alleged that the pro-life activists violated federal anti-trust and interfered with interstate commerce by trying to shut down abortion clinics.
"The abortion plaintiffs had been claiming that the heroic leaders whom we defended were leaders of a vast nationwide conspiracy comprising as many as a million members,” said Brejcha of the long legal battle’s claims.
These charges, he continued to explain, put “a black cloud over pro-life efforts to advocate against abortion as if these efforts to save human lives were some horrific enterprise bent on 'extortion' and 'racketeering.'”
After nearly three decades of litigation and three oral arguments before the Supreme Court, the case was dismissed by an 8-0 vote on its merits. Afterward, the Pro-Life Action League and other defendants filed suit in order to recover legal costs from the lengthy legal battle.
The pro-life activists were awarded most of the $70,000 in legal fees they sought in May 2013; however, N.O.W. appealed the decision to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
After hearing arguments on April 19, 2014, the three judges of the 7th circuit appellate court ruled unanimously in favor of the Pro-Life Action League and the other defendant’s claim to the restitution of legal fees in an April 29 opinion.
Judge Frank Easterbrook, who wrote the court’s opinion, called the pro-life activist’s claims "modest for a suit that entailed discovery, a long trial, many motions in the district court, and appellate proceedings that span a generation," dismissing the abortion group’s suit and struggle to not pay the fees as “preposterous.”
"This litigation has lasted far too long,” Judge Easterbrook wrote.
“At last it is over."