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Judge Rules Activist's Threatening Letter is 'Protected Speech'; Kan. Antiabortion Groups Divided Over Gun Law

Judge Rules Activist's Threatening Letter is 'Protected Speech'; Kan. Antiabortion Groups Divided Over Gun Law

August 19, 2013 — A federal judge on Thursday ruled that an antiabortion activist's letter to a Wichita doctor saying someone might place an explosive under her car is considered free speech and not a "true threat" to her safety, the AP/Kansas City Star reports.

In 2011, the Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit against Angel Dillard under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act after she wrote a letter to Mila Means, who was training to offer abortion services at her Wichita clinic. 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."

Judge's Ruling

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. He wrote, "If the glare of publicity and the prospect of additional government legal action are sufficient by themselves to prevent further communications by Dillard, they would remain even in the absence of separate injunction relief."

Reactions

Don McKinney, who represented Dillard, called the ruling "a great victory for the First Amendment." He said, "I appreciate the court held [DOJ] accountable to the law and the evidence." DOJ's Civil Rights Division in an emailed statement said that it is reviewing the court's order and is considering its options. The statement noted, "The right of doctors to deliver lawful reproductive health services free from threats of violence is protected by federal law" (Hegeman, AP/Kansas Star, 8/15).

Antiabortion Groups Disagree Over Effect of Gun Law on Abortion-Rights Debate

In other Kansas news, two antiabortion-rights groups in the state have distanced themselves from comments by the leader of a third group, who suggested the state's new "conceal-and-carry" gun law could increase the risk of shootings outside a Wichita abortion clinic, the AP/Kansas City Star reports.

Kansans for Life, Operation Rescue and Kansas Coalition for Life have asked the Wichita City Council to change local zoning laws in an attempt to shut down the South Wind Women's Center (AP/Kansas Star, 8/15). However, Wichita City Council members have showed no interest in considering the request (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/14).

In a recent news release, Mark Gietzen -- chair of the Kansas Coalition for Life -- said, "With the new conceal carry laws enacted since the closure of the Tiller [a]bortion [f]acility, the number of armed people present on-site will likely be higher -- not lower" (Bassett, Huffington Post, 8/15). He added, "South Wind escorts antagonize and provocatively taunt the pro-life volunteers on the site in ways that make serious violence more likely." He argued that would mean residential homes would "continuously be in the line of fire."

Representatives from Kansans for Life and Operation Rescue criticized the comments. Both groups also emphasized that they are not working with Kansas Coalition for Life as a formal coalition (AP/Kansas Star, 8/15).