A federal jury in Portland, Ore., ordered a group of antiabortion activists Tuesday to pay more than $107 million to Planned Parenthood and several doctors. The reason? The activists created Old West-style “wanted” posters and a Web site that lists the names, addresses and license plate numbers of abortion providers. In winning the suit, the plaintiffs argued that the activists’ material amounted to deadly threats. The Web site, titled “The Nuremberg Files,” crossed out the listed names of abortion clinic workers after they were murdered. The names of people who were wounded in attacks were dimmed to gray.
The verdict was hailed as a victory in the fight against the domestic terrorism of some militant abortion opponents. In recent years, at least seven people have been killed at abortion clinics around the country. Clinics also have been the targets of more than 250 bombings and incidents of arson. In such a tinderbox climate, the Nuremberg Files’ sole purpose is to stir up greater violence by providing abortion clinic workers’ personal information. The Web site’s content is morally disgusting and is another example of the hypocrisy of a radical wing of the antiabortion movement that spreads its “pro-life” message by committing or advocating violent acts.
But the defendants continue to argue that nothing they put on the Web site or distributed specifically called for violence against abortion workers or clinics. Along with some First Amendment advocates, they argue that the decision may open the door to limitations on public debate of volatile issues. It is true that the First Amendment protects the Web site and its political ideology. But constitutional rights aside, certain aspects of the site went too far, especially in light of recent clinic violence.
This case walks a fine line between free speech and protecting the lives of doctors who perform a legal medical procedure. The ruling was correct – maybe it will force radical abortion opponents to think twice before they contribute to a climate that leaves doctors and their assistants living in fear.