Web site threatens abortion providers, court rules
February 2, 1999
PORTLAND, Oregon (CNN) -- A federal jury decided Tuesday that a controversial Web site and "wanted" posters amounted to death threats against doctors who perform abortions. More than a dozen defendants were ordered to pay damages of more than $100 million.
"I have no intention of giving money to people who kill children," defendant Catherine Ramey vowed outside the courthouse. She had sobbed as the verdict was read in court.
Kathy Bachman of Planned Parenthood, the main plaintiff in the case, said her organization did not believe it would see any of the money because defendants had previously said they would transfer their assets to make themselves "judgment-proof."
"That really is not what we're after," insisted Bachman. "We're after the safety of our patients, the safety of our staff, the ability to provide a constitutionally legal procedure to women who want it."
The unanimous verdict was reached by four men and four women after three weeks of trial and 4 1/2 days of deliberations.
The jury said the posters and Web site called "The Nuremberg Files" constituted "a true threat by one or more of the defendants to do bodily harm, assault or kill any of the plaintiffs."
The defendants plan to appeal. But if the verdict stands, it could redefine what is considered constitutionally protected speech. The Web site and posters contained no explicit threats of violence.
"The Nuremberg Files" Web site lists about 200 abortion providers under the heading of "baby butchers." And the site invites readers to send in such personal details as the doctors' home addresses, license plate numbers and the names of their children.
The similar Wild West-style posters offered a $5,000 reward for information about the "Deadly Dozen" doctors branded "Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity."
Three times, doctors whose names appeared on the list were killed, most recently last October when Dr. Barnett Slepian was gunned down by sniper fire in his home outside Buffalo, New York. His name on the Web site was promptly crossed through.
Throughout the trial, held under tight security, doctors on the list testified that they lived in constant fear, used disguises, bodyguards and bulletproof vests, and instructed their children to crouch in the bathroom if they heard gunfire.
The 14 defendants, 12 individuals and two anti-abortion groups -- Advocates for Life Ministries and the American Coalition of Life Activists -- maintained during the trial that free speech never killed anybody. They likened themselves to civil rights crusaders engaged in political debate.
But on the witness stand, defendant Andrew Burnett, publisher of Life Advocate Magazine, conceded that doctors may have reason to fear the Web site because of the extent of anti-abortion violence.
"If I was an abortionist," he said, "I would be afraid."
Four doctors, Planned Parenthood and a Portland clinic filed suit in 1995 under the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which makes it illegal to incite violence against abortion doctors and their patients.
Jury wraps first day of deliberations in abortion Web site case
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
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