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The BBC's Washington Correspondent Paul Reynolds
"The site was taken down by the internet provider after the original damages were awarded"
 real 28k

Friday, 30 March, 2001, 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK
Free speech protects anti-abortion site
Anti abortion campaigners
Abortion is an emotive issue in the US
Anti-abortion activists in the United States have won the right to continue publishing the names and addresses of abortion doctors on the internet.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled that a website that brands the doctors as "baby butchers" is protected by the First Amendment that guarantees free speech.


Political speech may not be punished just because it makes it more likely that someone will be harmed at some unknown time in the future

Court's decision
A coalition of groups that support a woman's right to an abortion has denounced The Nuremberg Files site as a hit list that incites violence against doctors.

The court's decision came after a notorious American anti-abortion activist was arrested in France. James Kopp, 46, is charged with killing Dr Barnett Slepian, in 1998.

Several doctors who have been killed in the US were listed on the website. After their murders, their names were crossed out.

The case has attracted considerable attention in the US as an important test on the limits of free speech, especially in new forums such as the internet.

Wanted posters

The ruling comes two years after a jury in Portland, Oregon, ordered a dozen anti-abortionists to pay $107m to the Planned Parenthood organisation and four doctors for inciting violence.

But the appeals court threw out the verdict, arguing that although the website's content is incendiary, it did not "authorise, ratify or directly threaten violence."

The Nuremberg site lists doctors who perform abortions
For pro-choice groups, the site constituted a "hit list" of doctors
"Political speech may not be punished just because it makes it more likely that someone will be harmed at some unknown time in the future," the judges said in their ruling.

Planned Parenthood and the doctors were portrayed on Old West-style posters passed out at rallies and on the website, which listed abortion providers' names and addresses and declared them guilty of crimes against humanity.

In response, doctors on the list took to wearing bullet-proof vests and living under police protection.

The name of Dr Slepian was crossed out on the site shortly after he was killed by a sniper at his home near Buffalo, New York, in 1998.

Liberty

The activists argued their posters were protected under the First Amendment because they were merely a list of doctors, not a threat.


Reasonable people understand the difference between free speech and harassment that creates a violent social climate.

Gloria Feldt, Planned Parenthood
They maintained they collected data on doctors in the hope of one day putting them on trial, just as Nazi war criminals were tried at Nuremberg.

"This is a reaffirmance of first amendment liberty," said attorney Christopher Ferrara for the activists.

The ruling has provoked outrage among pro-choice doctors and campaigners.

Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America said: "Reasonable people understand the difference between free speech and harassment that creates a violent social climate.

"Regardless of the next steps in this case, Planned Parenthood remains committed to doing everything we can within the law to protect our patients, doctors, staff and facilities, and to bringing to justice terrorists who threaten them."

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Anti-abortion
Has free speech gone too far?
See also:

29 Mar 01 | Americas
Abortion doctor murder suspect held
03 Feb 99 | Americas
Violence and the pro-life campaign
03 Feb 99 | Americas
Huge fine for anti-abortion site
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