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DOJ Will Appeal Judge's Ruling Calling Antiabortion Threat 'Free Speech'

DOJ Will Appeal Judge's Ruling Calling Antiabortion Threat 'Free Speech'

October 11, 2013 — The Department of Justice is appealing a federal judge's ruling that an antiabortion-rights activist's threatening letter to a Wichita, Kan., doctor is constitutionally protected as free speech, the AP/Kansas City Star reports.

The DOJ Civil Rights Division on Thursday filed a brief notice with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that it will challenge a judge's August summary decision, which found that the letter was not a "true threat." The letter said that someone might put an explosive under the doctor's car (Hegeman, AP/Kansas City Star, 10/10).

Background

In 2011, DOJ filed a civil lawsuit against activist Angel Dillard under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act after she wrote the letter to Mila Means, who was training to offer abortion services in Wichita. Wichita had not had an abortion provider since the murder of George Tiller.

In the letter, Dillard wrote that thousands of people nationwide were scrutinizing Means' background, adding, "They know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live." The letter continued, "You will be checking under your car every day -- because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it."

In a 25-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Thomas Marten said DOJ provided no evidence that actual violence against Means was likely or imminent. Marten also noted that Dillard sent the letter openly with her return address on the envelope. In addition, the judge rejected DOJ's request for a permanent injunction barring Dillard from contacting Means. The defense had argued that Dillard would have no reason to do so because Means no longer plans to offer abortion services in the state. Marten also noted that Dillard did not contact Means while the lawsuit was pending (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/19).

Defense's Response

In an email Thursday, attorney Donald McKinney, who represented Dillard, reacted to the government's plan to appeal. He wrote, "The government has more important things to do with taxpayer dollars than hound a housewife who wrote one letter to a person who never performed a single abortion in Wichita. The Feds should pick on someone more their size, like terrorist networks or drug cartels" (AP/Kansas City Star, 10/10).