by Frank Fisher
Associated Press Writer
April 28, 1998
Augusta, Maine (AP) -- After quashing Maine's gay rights law last February, two of the state's largest conservative Christian groups are aiming at a new target: a controversial type of late-term abortion.
Given their track record, the announcement by the Christian Civic League of Maine and the Christian Coalition of Maine that they are launching a petition drive to put the issue to a public vote is being taken seriously by abortion-rights supporters.
"I have no doubt that they would be able to gather the signatures that they need," Sally Sutton, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, said Monday.
The two groups led an underdog fight against a state law prohibiting certain forms of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Despite being outspent and with polls suggesting wide public support of the law, the groups used a grassroots campaign to win a referendum that made Maine the first state to repeal a gay-rights statute.
"I've never underestimated them," said George Hill, executive director of the Family Planning Association in Augusta. "I think that they demonstrated that they could pull off a referendum question in a way that probably surprised many people, but it didn't surprise me."
Michael Heath, executive director of the 3,000-member Christian Civic League, said he wanted the latest referendum to stir up debate over abortion.
The referendum's language would mirror a proposed federal ban on so-called "partial-birth" abortions vetoed twice by President Clinton. Abortion foes in Congress plan to try to override the latest veto.
The abortion procedure, usually performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy, involves partially extracting a fetus, legs first, through the birth canal, cutting an incision in the skull base and then draining the contents.
Last year, Maine lawmakers rejected a bill that would have banned the procedure except to save the life of a mother.
Late-term abortion bans have been passed in more than a dozen states. Courts have ruled such laws in Ohio and Michigan unconstitutional; the U.S. Supreme Court last month let stand the Ohio ruling.
To force a referendum, the Maine campaign will have to collect about 51,000 signatures. If the groups get the signatures by Jan. 21, the matter will go before the Legislature, which can either pass its own law or send it to a referendum in November 1999.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
Jury Finds for Abortion
by Mike Robinson
Associated Press Writer
April 20, 1998
Chicago (AP) -- A federal jury today found that three national leaders of the anti-abortion movement committed acts of extortion against abortion clinics and awarded $85,000 in damages.
The jury of two men and four women, which had deliberated since Thursday, found that the defendants damaged the clinics' ability to do business over more than 15 years. The damage figure could grow considerably since other clinics will now be able to file for damages.
The lawsuit, filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law, named as defendants two of the most militant anti-abortion groups, Operation Rescue and the Pro-Life Action League, as well as three of the league's top leaders.
The civil lawsuit accused the groups and defendants Joseph Scheidler, Timothy Murphy and Andrew Scholberg of waging a campaign to shut the clinics through fear and violence.
Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry originally was named in the lawsuit. But already facing $169,000 in court awards from two other abortion lawsuits, he settled with NOW in January and was no longer part of the case. He agreed not to participate in any criminal activity against abortion clinics, their staffs or patients or belong to any group that does; violation of that agreement could cost him $15,000 and allow NOW to reinstate him as a defendant.
Scheidler had maintained he always advocated pursuing an end to abortion "by legal means."
"When the smoke clears, you're going to find that they don't have any case," Scheidler said at the start of the trial.
Attorneys for NOW and the clinics, however, told jurors that anti-abortion leaders claimed to advocate legal methods but actually encouraged criminal conduct.
NOW attorney Fay Clayton said Scheidler and his co-defendants did not actually engage in arsons and bombings but created an atmosphere in which others carried out these acts.
She quoted Scheidler as telling his followers: "You can try for 50 years to do it the nice way or you can do it next week the nasty way."
The case asked for $86,500 in damages for security required at abortion clinics in Milwaukee and Wilmington, Delaware, as a result of a wave of attacks, mainly in the 1980s but continuing until today.
The case could strike a powerful blow at the anti-abortion movement.
But G. Robert Blakey, the Notre Dame University law professor who was a chief architect of the racketeering statute, said recently that the act was intended only for use against organized crime and drug cartels.
"This case is a nightmare for anybody who wants to picket," Blakey said, adding that groups who don't profit financially shouldn't be penalized.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
by Mike Robinson
Associated Press Writer
April 20, 1998
Chicago (AP) -- In an unusual use of a racketeering law designed to fight the mob, a federal jury ruled Monday that anti-abortion protest organizers used threats and violence to shut down clinics -- a verdict that could cost the movement millions.
Although the abortion foes were ordered to pay only about $258,000, the class-action ruling opened the door for more claims by as many as 1,000 clinics across the country.
"This is the biggest courtroom defeat for the anti-abortion movement ever," declared Fay Clayton, an attorney for the National Organization for Women, which filed the lawsuit in 1986.
Defense attorneys said the verdict would be appealed and Cardinal Francis George announced that the Chicago Archdiocese would consider joining the appeal as a friend of the court, calling the verdict "unjust."
"The decision in this case effectively equates freedom of speech with racketeering," the cardinal said in a statement.
The jury found that anti-abortion activist Joseph Scheidler and two associates, Timothy Murphy and Andrew Scholberg, engaged in 21 acts of extortion to shut down clinics. The jury also found that two anti-abortion organizations, the Pro-Life Action League and Operation Rescue, were part of the scheme.
The jury ordered the three activists and two organizations to pay $85,926.92 in damages, which will be tripled under the racketeering law.
The damages were awarded to abortion clinics in Milwaukee and Wilmington, Del., for security measures required after violence flared outside their doors. But a number of other clinics intend to file for class-action damages under the verdict.
"They want to bankrupt us -- there's no question about that," said Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League.
Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry originally was named in the lawsuit. But already facing $169,000 in court awards from two other abortion lawsuits, he settled with NOW in January and was no longer part of the case.
He agreed not to participate in any criminal activity against abortion clinics, their staffs or patients or belong to any group that does; violation of that agreement could cost him $15,000 and allow NOW to reinstate him as a defendant.
A number of other clinics intend to file for class-action damages under the verdict, according to clinic operators.
Wendy Crew, an attorney for the Alabama-based New Woman All Women Clinic, announced in Birmingham that the clinic was considering an effort to collect triple damages. A security guard was killed and a nurse badly injured in a Jan. 29 bombing at the facility. The suspect remains at large.
A turning point in the case came in 1994 when the U.S. Supreme Court reversed lower-court rulings and gave NOW permission to refile the lawsuit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. It was the first nationwide class-action lawsuit ever filed against the anti-abortion movement under RICO.
Congress passed the law in 1970 as a weapon against organized crime, but in recent years businesses have also become targets of its civil provisions.
Defense attorney Tom Brejcha said that RICO never should have been used in the case. "RICO is terribly flawed, vague and over broad," he said.
Abortion-rights forces won a lawsuit several years ago against blockade organizers under the RICO act in Philadelphia. But Clayton said that verdict was minor by comparison.
U.S. District Judge David Coar scheduled a hearing for Wednesday at which he is expected to discuss a court order to curb violence at clinics.
Coar barred abortion-rights attorneys from introducing evidence that they claimed would tie the defendants to more than a decade of bombings and arsons at clinics around the country. But he allowed them to tell jurors of doctors and patients being grabbed, pushed, struck with protest signs and threatened.
Scheidler and his co-defendants denied encouraging violence, saying they couldn't help the excesses of a few individuals.
"We wanted to come out as a legitimate force in America and not as racketeers," Scheidler said. "There is no honor in being a racketeer and we're not racketeers."
Feminists were elated by the decision.
"A jury of six men and women saw through the thugs' shameless attempt to pervert the First Amendment," NOW President Patricia Ireland said.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
wait for Christ
to return to Jerusalem
by Johan Bodin
Copyright © 1998 AFP
May 30, 1998
Jerusalem -- Christian millennialists who want to be present for what they predict will be Jesus Christ's return to Jerusalem on Jan. 1, 2000, need only contact Brother David, who is already finding accommodations for them in the Holy City.
The bearded 58-year-old American is renting apartments from Palestinians on the Mount of Olives in Israeli-occupied east Jerusalem so there will be enough places to stay for the flocks of faithful he says will gather in the holy city for Jesus's re-appearence.
"Four years ago, God told me to prepare and rent houses to pilgrims," said David, a member of an American millennialist sect who has lived in Israel for nearly 20 years.
He said there are already a dozen members of the sect in homes he has rented, adding, "In two years we hope to have 1,000 Christians with us."
Five million pilgrims and tourists are expected in the Holy Land for the celebrations marking 2000 years since the birth of Christ, but Brother David is thinking only about those coming to mark Jesus's return and the end of the world.
"We are living in the last days before the return of Jesus Christ. He should return to the Mount of Olives because that is where the principal events of his life were played out," he said.
How many apartments Brother David needs is hard to calculate, since even experts have difficulty pinning down the size of the millennialist movement as the fatal date approaches.
"In the United States, the hard core of several hundred thousand born-again Christians enjoy considerable influence among the 50 million fundamentalists," said Richard Landes, director of a Boston-based research center which specializes in millennarian Christianity.
"They fund a number of political missions in the U.S. and Israel," he adds.
In east Jerusalem, born-again Christians already have a chapel in the Sheikh Jarah area.
The faithful go there daily to sing hymns celebrating the return of Jesus Christ and to recount mystical experiences.
"Tonight, I saw the Wailing Wall and a door opened up in it and there was a beautiful light flooding out. And I could feel everyone coming around me, Jews and Arabs and Christians coming in to worship," said one woman, encouraged by her companions.
The eschatological hopes of these Christians are pinned on the Mount of Olives where, according to the New Testament, Christ was raised up to heaven in the Ascension.
Brother David, a native of Syracuse, N.Y., has made detailed calculations to explain why Christ is waiting for the year 2000 to return.
"It is said in the scriptures that 1,000 years is like a day for God. So there were 4,000 years of history before Christ, then 2,000 years after Christ. So that is six days. The year 2000 marks the start of the seventh day, the day God rested," he said.
"This will be the day of the return of the Lord. And there are signs that show that the Coming of the Lord is near."
But, he added, "only God knows" the exact date of the Messiah's return.
If the born-again faithful are busy preparing for the coming of Christ, doctors at Kfar Shaoul psychiatric hospital in Jerusalem are waiting for the year 2000 with their feet on the ground.
"With a massive influx of pilgrims coming from all over the world, we are expecting an increase in cases of Jerusalem Syndrome," says Yair Barel, the director of the clinic.
"Jerusalem Syndrome" is a psychiatric condition in which ordinary pilgrims, overcome by the spiritual experience of the city, start announcing the imminent return of Jesus Christ or else start believing themselves to be the Messiah.
Today, the Mount of Olives is a quiet Palestinian quarter, dotted with churches and thronged with tourists vying for its magnificent views of the Old City and its holy sites.
At the popular Ghassam cafe, the coffee drinkers have seen their share of believers pass by and visions of a flood of Christian millennarians awaiting the end of the world leave them unimpressed.
"Everyone has his beliefs and strange superstitions," commented Shuaib Abu Sbeitan, a 58-year-old radiologist.
"It was God who has created mankind so that he can live, and He is not going to destroy mankind so soon," he said.
Still, Abu Sbeitan is ready to be accommodating.
"If I had any room at home, I would gladly rent space to these Christians. They pay well and do not make any problems," he said.
"But we Palestinians already have enough trouble finding accommodation for ourselves."
Eight Buried at Priest's House
by Cliff Walker
April 24, 1998
Brussels -- Human teeth discovered at the home of Hungarian-born Pastor Andras Pandy, a Protestant priest, prompted authorities to suggest that eight bodies were buried there.
The teeth belonged to seven women and one man, none of whom are members of the pastor's family. Pandy is already accused of murdering five family members.
"This means we could be talking about at least 13 victims," spokesman Jos Colpin reporters.
Pandy was arrested last October and charged with murdering two former wives and three of their children.
Although he denies the charges against him, his daughter Agnes gave authorities graphic details about the killings, including how the bodies were hacked up, how body parts could not be dissolved in baths of household drain cleaner, and how body parts were placed in plastic bags and disposed at an abattoir.
Police in November discovered the remains of four people in one of the pastor's three Brussels houses, and also found slabs of meat "of uncertain origin" in a freezer.