Antiabortion Web Site Loses Free Speech Case

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The verdict is in, but it's by no means the final word. A federal jury in Portland told an antiabortion group on Tuesday that its web site is essentially a hit list targeting abortion providers and ordered it to pay up more than $100 million to a group of plaintiffs, including Planned Parenthood. The web site, called the Nuremberg Files, contains a list of abortion providers around the country, and, in some instances, personal identifiers such as pictures, phone numbers and family information. Slain providers have been crossed off the list. "This may be an emotionally satisfying decision," says TIME senior writer Richard Lacayo, "but it is riddled with constitutional problems."

The basic constitutional objection, of course, is the First Amendment right of free speech. The defendants argued that they were only publicizing their objections to abortion and denouncing those who provide it. Over the years, the courts have indicated that there are some limits to free speech and that one of those limits is triggered when it can be shown that the speech encourages, facilitates and incites violence. "This case could go down as another guidepost of when protections of the law are going to pull back on expression that appears to threaten people," says Lacayo. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court may have to clarify where the lines of demarcation should be drawn. For now, the defendants, who have vowed not to pay a cent, plan to appeal.