Anti-abortion Web site shut down

Summary:Seeks 'bolder ISP' to host site, Webcams outside clinics.

The anti-abortion Web site whose creator was among the defendants losing a $107 million lawsuit was shut down Friday morning, a day after it announced plans to install Webcams outside abortion clinics. Shut down by its Internet service provider, the site was looking for a "bolder ISP." The key plaintiff in the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood on Thursday had vowed to take the site operators back to court if they installed the Webcams.

The site, called "The Nuremberg Files," was not accessible Friday. Pathway Communications of Carrollton, Ga., which had maintained the site, said its Internet service provider had shut it down overnight, citing violations of its "appropriate use policy" with subscribers.

The spokesman said the site operators were looking for a "bolder ISP" to host the site and its planned Webcams.

The site's previous ISP, Mindspring of Atlanta, acknowledged it had shut down the site because of its "threatening" content, and a spokesman added that it would not be allowed back.

Planned Parenthood on Thursday expressed skepticism about the Webcam plan but added that any attempt to videotape women at clinics would meet with legal action.

"If that happens, not only would Planned Parenthood, but anyone else who believes in protecting women's patient-doctor confidentiality rights, would seek immediate recourse in the courts," a spokesman said.

Webcams within 10 days
Neal Horsley, who runs the Web site, was one of 14 defendants who last Tuesday lost a federal lawsuit brought by doctors and other plaintiffs. The defendants are expected to appeal the verdict, while plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to shut the site down.

Other defendants were sued because of controversial "wanted" posters they distributed.

Horsley on Thursday vowed to "film people going in and out of the clinics. We'll film the faces of people who are entering and the faces of mothers driving their daughters to clinics to have abortions."

He would not identify which clinics would be filmed, but said five are in the United States, one is in Japan and another in England. "Our goal is to have a camera in every time zone, so someone can log on to a live location at any time of the day and see what's going on," he said.

Horsley expected the Webcams to be operating within 10 days.

The site on Thursday included a notice that read: "Imagine being able to log onto the Internet and see real-time video footage of people coming and going from abortion clinics simply by clicking a hyperlink. Because of the cooperation of various sidewalk counseling groups that regularly occupy the perimeters of baby butcher shops around the world, we will soon be able to provide you with this service, free on the Internet."

Verdict questioned
In the lawsuit, eight jurors ruled that certain content on posters and the Web site amounted to threats even though those threats weren't explicit.

If upheld, the jury's verdict could redefine the limits of free speech.

But Herman Schwartz, a First Amendment expert at American University in Washington, felt the verdict went too far. "We haven't really reached the stage in free speech that merely saying things without the likelihood that they'll be acted on soon amounts to a threat, a real threat," he said.

"The anti-abortion people have been saying these kinds of things for years," he said. "This talk that they're murderers, that they're mass murderers even, is protected speech. We're very solicitous of speech, even the speech we hate." The verdict might also be on shaky ground because U.S. District Judge Robert Jones used a lesser standard than the Supreme Court, which said threats must be likely to cause "imminent lawless action."

Jones told the jury that the posters and Web site should be considered threats if they can be taken as such by a "reasonable person."

As part of the tight security surrounding the case, the judge said the names of the eight jurors will never be made public.

Controversial content
If upheld, the verdict could redefine what is considered constitutionally protected political speech because the anti-abortion materials contained no explicit threats of violence, only veiled messages, such as crossing through the names of abortion providers who were killed.

"The Nuremberg Files" lists hundreds of what it calls "baby butchers" and invites readers to send in such personal details as the home addresses of doctors who perform abortions, as well as their license plate numbers and even the names of their children. 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, N.Y. His name on the Web site was promptly crossed through.

Moreover, Wild West-style posters offered a $5,000 reward for information about the "Deadly Dozen" doctors branded "Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity."

The Plaintiffs
Planned Parenthood, the Portland Feminist Women's Health Center and four doctors filed the lawsuit against anti-abortion activists in 1995, citing the "Deadly Dozen" posters offering cash rewards for information about certain doctors who provided abortions.

The suit was later expanded to include "The Nuremberg Files" Web site.

Throughout the three-week trial, abortion 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 plaintiffs sued under the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, that makes it illegal to incite violence against abortion doctors and their patients.

While the law has been used often against people who have firebombed clinics or attacked doctors, this case, filed in 1995, was believed to be the first not to result from a violent confrontation or a direct, person-to-person threat.

The American Medical Association was so concerned about the Web site that it recently set up a crisis team to contact people on the list and met with FBI and Justice Department officials to discuss the matter.

The defendants
Attorneys for the 14 defendants, who include the umbrella group American Coalition of Life Advocates, contended their clients were peaceful protesters engaged in a vigorous political debate.

Horsley has argued that nowhere is there a threat to do bodily harm and that the site's purpose is to build a dossier on abortion doctors in hopes of providing evidence against them if they are ever put on trial, as Nazi war criminals were at Nuremberg.

Defendants had indicated that no matter what the verdict, their tactics would not change. They also said any monetary award would have nothing more than a symbolic impact because they have transferred their assets to make themselves "judgment-proof."

One defendant, a Reformed Lutheran pastor from Bowie, Md., who spent nearly four years in prison for setting fires to clinics in the 1980s, said before the verdict that a Planned Parenthood victory could lead to more violence.

"If you are blocked of public protests," Michael Gray argued, "then people are left saying, 'What are we going to do? It leaves only one option: the covert use of force -- vandalism, blowing up places and terminating doctors."

Topics: Legal

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