November 10, 2010 — On Monday, the Rev. Philip "Flip" Benham, director of the North Carolina-based antiabortion-rights group Operation Save America, was convicted of stalking a physician after distributing hundreds of "wanted" posters targeting abortion providers, the Charlotte Observer reports. A Mecklenburg County, N.C., district judge sentenced Benham to two years of probation and barred him from going within 300 feet of abortion clinics and 1,000 feet of one provider's home (Ordonez, Charlotte Observer, 11/10).
The posters read in bold letters, "Wanted ... By Christ, to Stop Killing Babies." They included photos, names and addresses for several Charlotte-based abortion providers and encouraged people to contact the physicians at their clinics (Ordonez, Charlotte Observer, 11/9).
Prosecutors argued that the posters could lead to violence against abortion providers. One doctor testified that he felt like there was target on his back because of the posters, the Observer reports.
Benham said that his group does not condone violence and that prosecutors are trying to connect OSA to extremist groups. He called the verdict a violation of his free speech rights and said he plans to appeal.
Abortion-Rights Advocates React
The verdict drew praise from abortion-rights advocates who say Benham is part of a decades-long domestic terrorism movement targeting abortion providers, the Observer reports. Since 1997, there have been more than 6,250 acts of violence against abortion providers in the U.S. and Canada, according to the National Abortion Federation. Several providers have been killed in other cities after similar "Wanted" posters were distributed, including in Wichita, Kan., where George Tiller was murdered in 2009.
DuVergne Gaines, legal coordinator for the Feminist Majority Foundation, said, "Reasonable people will look at this and say clearly this is a death threat." She added, "It scares doctors [and] terrifies them out of continuing to provide services for women that [are] guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States" (Charlotte Observer, 11/10).