ACLU Applauds Judge's Latest Order in Anti-Abortion "Wanted Posters" Case

February 26, 1999 12:00 am

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Friday, February 26, 1999

PORTLAND–The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon said today that a court order issued against anti-abortion activists in the Planned Parenthood “wanted posters” case draws an appropriate line between political speech protected by the First Amendment and threats of physical harm, which fall outside the bounds of free speech.

The Oregon ACLU had filed a friend-of-the-court brief on the First Amendment implications of the injunction, which had been proposed by lawyers for Planned Parenthood and the other abortion providers in the case.

David Fidanque, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oregon, applauded U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones for limiting the scope of his injunction to future publications by the defendants in the case that are similar to the “wanted posters” which spawned the lawsuit and which are made “with a specific intent to threaten.”

The injunction also bars the defendants from republishing, with specific intent to threaten, the material about these plaintiffs included in the “Nuremberg Files” web site. It does not require the web site to be dismantled, Fidanque noted, nor does it prohibit the dissemination of other material on the web site that has not been found threatening.

“The ACLU has maintained throughout this case that the safety of abortion providers can and should be secured by an appropriately crafted order that does not violate the First Amendment rights of anti-abortion protesters,” Fidanque said. “We believe that the essential element is whether the defendants in this case intended the Ôwanted’ posters they issued to be perceived as threats of physical harm by those who were named in the posters.”

Fidanque noted that in this week’s ruling Judge Jones made a specific finding of fact that the anti-abortion activists did have the necessary “specific intent and malice” to threaten the physical safety of the physicians and clinics and also intended to intimidate them from providing abortions in the future.

“Even after finding a past level of malice by the activist defendants in this case, an injunction designed to prevent them from issuing new threats had to be worded very carefully by the court in order to avoid a chilling effect on political speech protected by the First Amendment,” Fidanque said.

“Judge Jones accomplished that by prohibiting only those future statements by defendants that are similar to the posters already found to be threats in this case, and by requiring that such future statements are also made with the intent to threaten the abortion providers.”

Fidanque said that the injunction avoids chilling protected free speech because it covers only the defendants, the plaintiffs, their associates and other persons closely connected to them. He said the ACLU was pleased that the court’s treatment of the “Nuremberg Files” respected the distinction between protected and unprotected speech. In addition, Judge Jones’ injunction properly requires a court hearing before anyone could be arrested for contempt of his order.

“We believe that these limitations in the judge’s order are necessary to avoid chilling the protected free speech rights of these defendants and those of other political activists,” Fidanque said. “At the same time, the injunction provides plaintiffs with appropriate protection against a repetition of defendants’ threats.”

“Defendants continue to enjoy the same First Amendment rights as everyone else,” Fidanque added. “But the First Amendment doesn’t give anyone the right to make threats of physical violence.”

–Read the ACLU’s amicus brief on the injunction at
–Read the ACLU’s previous news releases on the case at:
— Read the ACLU’s original amicus brief at

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