Anti-abortion protesters who break the law in picketing, harassing and otherwise intimidating women clients or those who work in abortion clinics should be prosecuted under laws relevant to such acts.

But they should not be prosecuted under such stringent measures as the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as the RICO Act.A three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled this week that 27 protesters violated the federal measure in their attempts to shut down a Philadelphia abortion clinic.

While the strong-willed protesters, bent on closing down such facilities, may have been guilty of collusion, assault, disturbing the peace and a variety of other statues, it is unlikely they were guilty of laws aimed at curbing organized crime.

The case, being followed closely by both sides of the abortion dispute, marked the first time use of RICO by the pro-choice movement against anti-abortion activists. It isn't likely to be the last.

The RICO Act has most often been used against organized crime figures. An attorney for the abortion center said the act was applicable because protesters used extortion, in the form of threats and force, to deny the center its right to operate and to deny women their right to use the center.

Appeals court judges said center videotapes shows demonstrators pushed, shoved and tugged on patients as they tried to approach the center. The tapes apparently showed that the protesters knocked over and crossed police barricades and blocked the movement of cars.

None of this activity is justified and should be dealt with under the law, but charging the activists with racketeering is a total misapplication of the meaning of the word.

An official of the Pro-Life Coalition of Southeast Pennsylvania says that pushing, for example, doesn't constitute racketeering or extortion. That ought to be obvious.

What do disruptive acts at abortion clinics have to do with organized crime, even if the acts were plotted in advance? Until that can be explained, the use of the RICO law in this instance makes no sense.