Attorneys for six women arrested for allegedly disrupting a congressional hearing on an anti-abortion bill argued in court yesterday that the women were being prosecuted because of their political beliefs.
"They are being punished for their ideas . . . rather than for any conduct they are said to have engaged in" at the hearing argued defense attorney Linda Huber.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Peterson denied in court that politics played any part in the decision to go to trial.
"There simply is no suggestion that the Capitol police or the U.S. Attorney's office engaged in this prosecution for any improper motive," Peterson said.
Capt. Hudak testified that the decision on whether to remove people from committee hearings is made by the committee chairman, who is in charge of keeping order. The six women were arrested after they stood on their chairs and shouted feminist slogans during a hearing last April chaired by Sen. John P. East (R-N.C.), an outspoken foe of abortion.
The hearing was on a bill ontroduced by Sen. Jesse A. Helms (R-N.C.) that would allow states to outlaw abortions through a definition in it stipulating that human life begins at the moment of conception.
Available records of the Capitol police, which go back to 1973, show that no one accused of disrupting a congressional hearing has been prosecuted in that time, according to evidence introduced in D.C. Superior Court. On the two occasions in that period when people were arrested for disrupting congressional hearings, all charges were dropped before trial when the U.S. Attorney's office declined to prosecute, according to Capitol police.
For example, all charges were dropped against eight people arrested in the mid-1970s for disrupting a Senate Watergate hearing, according to Capt. John Hudak, a Capitol police official who testified yesterday.
Superior Court Judge Harriet R. Taylor heard arguments yesterday on a defense request that the misdemeanor charges be dropped because the defendants are allegedly being "selectively prosecuted" for their feminist views.
The defense argued that East and Senate staffers should be forced to testify about what role -- if any -- they had in the decision to prosecute the women.
Jerry Woodruff, East's press secretary, said the senator did not participate in the decision to prosecute the feminists. "His only concern was that the hearing be conducted without interference," Woodruff said.
The government is opposing defense efforts to have East and Senate staffers testify in court. The hearing will resume Thursday, at which time Judge Taylor is expected to rule on whether East will be required to appear in court to testify.