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Anti-abortion web threats silenced by $100m damages bill

Court rules anti-abortionists’ threats are nothing to do with freedom of speech

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More than a dozen US anti-abortion activists who used the Internet to publicise their opinions have been ordered to pay $100 million in damages by a US court. The American Coalition of Life Activists and the Advocates for Life Ministries was found guilty of inciting violence by posting details of around 200 doctors and other health workers from abortion clinics on the Web. The case has touched a raw nerve in the US -– where freedom of speech is often seen of paramount importance -- after activists called for the "baby butchers" to be "brought to justice" on the Nuremberg Files Web site. The judge in this case said the site read like a "wanted" poster. In one instance, the name of Dr. Barnett Slepian appeared on the activists' site with a line through it to indicate his murder. His name was crossed out only hours after he was killed by a sniper's bullet last October. "The jury saw these anti-choice wanted posters for what they are -- a hit list for terrorists," said Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), which brought the action. In a separate decision, Judge Lowell Reed in Philadelphia decided that the US government's bid to prevent Web sites from making sexually explicit material available to children under 17 year's of age was unconstitutional. Judge Lowell decided that safeguarding freedom of speech was more important than protecting minors from such unsuitable material. It is not yet known whether the US government will seek to appeal against the decision. ®

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