Protesting Abortion

Free speech or no?

Since 1993 there have been seven murders and fourteen attempted murders of abortion-clinic personnel, as well as more than two hundred clinic bombings and arsons. In this atmosphere one can readily understand that those who work in abortion clinics feel physically endangered. But by whom? By protesters who speak out against what happens in the clinics? Where should the line be drawn between protesters’ free-speech rights and what the law calls "true threats" or extortion? Does a website that included names and addresses of abortion clinics and doctors and that offers cash rewards for the prevention of abortions amount to threatening and provocative speech beyond the protection of the First Amendment?

A recent case in Portland, Oregon, imposed civil liability on anti-abortion protesters for activity that abortion providers found threatening. A local chapter of Planned Parenthood and individual physicians who provide abortions in Planned Parenthood clinics brought their suit under both the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (1994), which makes it illegal to use "force or threat of force" against abortion clients or providers, and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law. The primary focus of the suit was a website called "The Nuremberg Files" (found on the Web at, operated by the principal...

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About the Author

Edward McGlynn Gaffney Jr., a frequent contributor, is professor of Law at Valparaiso University.