A D.C. Superior Court judge ruled yesterday that the government can proceed with its prosecution of six feminists charged with disrupting a congressional hearing on an antiabortion bill, rejecting the women's claims that they were being prosecuted for their political views.
Judge Harriet R. Taylor, in announcing her decision from the bench, said that a review of available U.S. Capitol Police records show that people on all sides of the political spectrum have been prosecuted for disruptions in Congress.
Defense attorneys had argued that available Capitol police records dating back to 1973 show that no one accused of disrupting a congressional hearing -- as opposed to sessions of both houses of Congress -- has ever been prosecuted. They had sought dismissal of the misdemeanor charges because of alleged "selective prosecution."
However, Taylor said people accused of causing disruptions in the House or Senate galleries were prosecuted during that period.
She said the defense had failed to show that there was a difference between disrupting a committee hearing as opposed to a session of the Senate or House.
"There is no contention that committee hearings are open to participation at will or on the spur of the moment by the public," Taylor said. "I know of no hearings run like a Quaker Friends meeting."
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 that would enable states to outlaw abortions by stipulating that human life begins at conception.
Attorneys for the women were attempting to show that they were being prosecuted because of East's dislike of their abortion views rather than for their conduct at the hearings. Prosecutor Bruce Peterson said that East's opposition to abortions had nothing to do with the decision of the U.S. attorney's office to prosecute them.
Pretrial hearings in the case will continue today.