June 9, 1997

U.S. High Court lets stand abortion access law

WASHINGTON (Reuter) - The Supreme Court Monday rejected a constitutional challenge to a 1994 federal law that guarantees access to abortion clinics.

The justices turned down an appeal by Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry and five other abortion opponents arguing that Congress lacked the authority to adopt the law and claiming that it violates their free-speech rights.

The high court's action marked the sixth time since 1995 that the justices have let stand lower-court rulings upholding the law's constitutionality.

The law makes it a crime to use force, threats of force or physical obstruction to injure, intimidate or interfere with abortion clinic staff or their patients. It provides for civil and criminal penalties for violators.

The lawsuit challenging the measure was filed in May 1994, on the same day that President Clinton signed it into law.

In their appeal, Terry and the other abortion opponents argued that Congress lacked authority under the Constitution's Commerce Clause to enact the law, and said it violates their free-speech and assembly rights under the First Amendment.

The Justice Department strongly defended the law, telling the high court the measure prevents violence, preserves public access to health care and protects the exercise of the right to abortion. It said the law regulates conduct, not speech.

The Supreme Court, without any comment or dissent, sided with the Justice Department in denying the appeal.