It remains to be seen if the website will be up long enough to be filled with photos and addresses. It might not even be legal.
The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act was signed in 1994 in the wake of the murder of Dr. David Gunn in Pensacola, Fla., and the first attempt on Tiller’s life, when he was shot in both arms.
The FACE Act “makes it a federal crime to injure, intimidate, or interfere with those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health care services. That includes not just murder, assault, arson, and property damage, but also death threats, burglaries, harassing phone calls, hate mail, and blockades.”
So is posting personal addresses and photos free speech—or a threat? It depends.
“It doesn’t have to be a very specific threat in the sense of ‘I will kill you,’ given the context of everything’s that happened to people in the past and the goal of the movement to try to annihilate [abortion providers] from this country,” says David Cohen, an associate professor of law at Drexel University who has worked with Frietsche and represented Boulanger and the AWC. He is currently researching abortion provider harassment nationwide. “The definition of threat needs to be taken in that context.”
This is the context: Cheryl Sullenger, Operation Rescue’s senior policy advisor, is convicted felon who pleaded guilty in 1988 to conspiring to blow up a San Diego abortion clinic with a gasoline bomb. After the murder of Tiller in 2009, her phone number was found scribbled onto a piece of paper sitting on the dashboard of Scott Roeder’s vehicle.
As reported by Rachel Maddow, Sullenger later admitted that she had multiple conversations with Roeder about Tiller’s whereabouts. Meanwhile, the Operation Rescue website posted the address of Tiller’s home and church, where he was killed by Roeder.
The practice of targeting individual clinic workers and posting their personal information has been ruled criminal activity by local juries, too.
Last July, Philip “Flip” Benham, former director of Operation Rescue and current leader of a group he calls “Operation Rescue/Operation Save America” in Charlotte, N.C., was found guilty of stalking after posting Western-style “Wanted” posters in the neighborhoods of doctors who perform abortions.
NPR reported that like Operation Rescue’s claims about the AbortionDocs.org database, “Benham denies the posters are a threat and says they’re a tool to inform the community about doctors who are performing abortions.”
Eleanor Smeal, president of DC-based Feminist Majority Foundation, says her legal team is looking into challenging the legality of the database.
“There’s an implied threat,” says Smeal. “There’s no other way of saying it.” Smeal calls it thuggery.
“Are we going to have a lawless country where small minorities can drive anyone out of business?” asks Smeal. “Today it’s this issue. Tomorrow it could be another.”
Under the leadership of 44-year-old Troy Newman, Operation Rescue has become known for zeroing in on defined areas and then pressuring individual clinics and practitioners until operating becomes unreasonable or impossible.
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