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Lawmakers Seek Ruling Review Plaintiffs Say Web Site Undermines Abortion Protections

By Henry Weinstein
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- In a highly unusual move, 43 members of Congress said Thursday they will ask the federal appeals court in San Francisco to revisit a recent ruling holding that an Internet site and “wanted” posters identifying abortion providers as “baby butchers” deserving of punishment are free speech.

In a friend-of-the-court brief to be filed Friday, 12 U.S. senators and 31 House members warn that the March 28 decision could spawn renewed violence at abortion clinics.

The lawmakers assert that the ruling permitting the “Deadly Dozen,” a poster that accused abortion doctors of “crimes against humanity,” and the Web site titled “the Nuremberg Files,” undermined the legislative intent of the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

The law bars the use of force or threats of force to prevent access to reproductive health services.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who co-authored the bill while in Congress, is spearheading the lawmakers’ effort. Other participants include Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), a key sponsor of the law in the Senate, and two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and James Jeffords of Vermont.

Schumer said the ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threatened to erode the impact of the statute, which he said had “played a major role in dramatically reducing the number of crimes and threats against women and doctors.”

The lawmakers’ brief asserts that the legislative intent of the statute was meant to cover threats like those on the “Nuremberg Files” Web site, which listed doctors who provide abortions, including in some instances their photos, addresses, car license numbers and names of family members.

Names of doctors murdered by abortion foes were lined out on the Web site and those wounded in attacks were marked in gray.

According to the brief, the three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals “disregarded Congress’ intent that the statute be construed as broadly as possibly to achieve Congress’ remedial purpose of eradicating violence and intimidation.”

The lawmakers announced their action a day after the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, one of the primary plaintiffs in the case, filed papers in the 9th Circuit asking the court to grant a rehearing in the case.