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National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy and author Wendy Kaminer squared off in a debate over the rights of abortion protesters last night.

The debate was taped at the Wistar Institute for the show Justice Talking, aired across the country on National Public Radio. It focused on one question: should the organizers of violent anti-abortion protests be prosecuted under federal anti-racketeering regulations?

The anti-racketeering laws in question are called RICO laws, originally used to combat organized crime. In December, NOW will stand before the Supreme Court and argue that these laws can be used to bring civil suits against organizers of violent abortion protests.

"The point of RICO is to let you get to the people who... were behind the operation," Gandy said.

Gandy's organization, along with two others, has spent the last 14 years prosecuting several pro-life protest organizers, including Joseph Scheidler, the leader of the Pro-Life Action League.

Gandy argues that the use of these types of laws is the most effective way to curb violence at abortion clinics.

But Kaminer argued that only violent protesters should be prosecuted -- not the leaders of pro-life groups.

"That's the way we deal with these acts," Kaminer said. "We don't go after entire political movements."

Kaminer also argued that if NOW wins this case, a dangerous precedent could be set for prosecuting protesters in the future. She pitched the debate as a question of the right to free speech.

Kaminer expressed concern that peaceful protesters will refrain from voicing their opinions because of the fear of being associated with organizations. She said that the threat of litigation, even when unmerited, could deter citizens from taking advantage of their first amendment rights.

"Litigation is like chemotherapy," Kaminer said. "It's something you want to stay far away from."

But Gandy refused to admit that the NOW lawsuit called into question first amendment rights. She maintained that NOW and the Supreme Court are committed to upholding freedom of speech for all protesters. However, Gandy emphasized that she does want to prevent protesters from using violent methods.

"What we can do is deprive them of the right to use fear, force and violence," she said.

Pro-choice and pro-life advocates attended the taping of the debate. Many audience members on both sides of the abortion issue expressed a struggle to reach a conclusion about this particular case.

Co-chairwoman of Penn for Choice Leah Tulin said she did not leave the debate persuaded in either direction.

"I think it's a really tough issue," the College senior said. "I'm pro-choice, but I think that protesters definitely have rights too."

But Justice Talking Executive Producer Kathryn Kolbert said that was the idea.

"Our goal with Justice Talking is to give people a new perspective on issues that are hotly debated and controversial," said Kolbert, an Annenberg senior resident.

Kolbert added, "The whole point here is to challenge traditional ideas about the principles of our Constitution."

About 32 episodes of Justice Talking are taped each year. The show is aired in 50 markets and 140 countries worldwide.

This particular debate can be heard on National Public Radio within the next several weeks.

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