May 18, 2011 — An antiabortion-rights activist accused of sending a threatening letter to a Kansas physician has filed a counterclaim against the U.S. Department of Justice, arguing that the lawsuit against her violates her rights to free speech and religious freedom, AP/MSNBC reports (Hegeman, AP/MSNBC, 5/17).
Under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, DOJ's Civil Rights Division filed a civil complaint alleging that antiabortion-rights advocate Angel Dillard sent a threatening letter to physician Mila Means. Means has said she plans to offer abortion care in Wichita to fill a need left by the 2009 murder of abortion provider George Tiller. The lawsuit seeks to permanently restrict Dillard from contacting Means or coming within 250 feet of her, her home, business or car. The lawsuit also seeks a penalty of $15,000 and damages of $5,000 for Means.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Thomas Marten denied DOJ's request for a preliminary injunction ordering Dillard to stay 250 feet away from Means. In his ruling, Marten said that while the letter clearly was meant to intimidate Means, it does not constitute "a true threat" (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/22). Marten ordered both parties to present written briefs before he schedules a hearing on the defense's separate request to dismiss the suit.
Dillard's counterclaim contends that the lawsuit has interfered with her right to worship where she chooses because her church is located within 250 feet of Means' office. She is seeking statutory damages of $5,000 per violation, plus attorney fees, court costs and punitive damages.
Last week, DOJ filed an amended complaint stating that an Associated Press story quoted a 2009 interview with Dillard in which she discussed her friendship with Scott Roeder -- the man convicted of murdering Tiller -- and said she admired him for following his convictions (AP/MSNBC, 5/17).