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Appeals court rules in favor of anti-abortion Internet site

SAN FRANCISCO (BP)–A federal appeals court has ruled that a group of anti-abortion activists were exercising their free-speech rights when they published “wanted” posters listing the names of abortion doctors, whom they called “baby butchers,” CNSNews.com reported March 29.

A three-member panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, located in San Francisco, ruled unanimously March 28 the First Amendment protected the language on “The Nuremberg Files” website, even though it called the rhetoric “pungent, even highly offensive,” CNS reported. The panel’s opinion said, according to CNS, “While the [American Coalition of Life Activists] named its targets, it said nothing about planning to harm them; indeed, it did not even call on others to do so.”

The panel’s action overturned a $107 million judgment in a federal court in Portland, Ore., against the anti-abortion coalition, according to The Washington Post. Abortion rights advocates had contended the website, which includes the addresses and photos of some abortion doctors, endorsed violence against them.

In its opinion, the appeals court panel cited a 1982 Supreme Court decision in favor of Mississippi civil rights activists who publicized the names of blacks who continued to shop at white-owned businesses that had been accused of racist practices, The Post reported. The high court ruled their actions were protected by the First Amendment, even though some of the blacks targeted were threatened or harmed, according to The Post.

Abortion rights organizations decried the Ninth Circuit’s decision.

“Reasonable people understand the difference between free speech and harassment that creates a violent social climate,” said Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a written statement. “This Web site represents the latter.”

Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, called for President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft to seek a reversal of the ruling.

One of the defendants in the case, Michael Bray of Bowie, Md., told The Post, “We did nothing but express our view, however radical it might seem. Not only do abortion advocates want to have their rights, but they want to shut up everybody that calls [abortion] murder.”

The case is Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Williamette v. American Coalition of Life Activists.

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