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Judge rules in favour of Nuremberg Files Web site

Listing personal details of abortion doctors is legal

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A Federal judge has ruled that the controversial "Nuremburg Files" US Web site, which lists the names and personal details of doctors in the States that carry out abortion, is legal and can be published on the Internet.

The ruling was sparked by a court case in 1999 in which several doctors won damages of $107 million against the American Coalition of Life Activists, the Advocates for Life Ministries and a number of individuals who had posted "wanted" pics of the doctors on the Internet.

The site itself is a very nasty piece of work. Describing doctors as "baby butchers" and of committing "crimes against humanity", it asks for and publishes any information it can garner on those that offer abortions and that includes names (of them and their kids), addresses and licence plate numbers. The forthright and threatening stance taking by anti-abortionists has been expounded though by the murders of seven doctors and a further 17 attempted murders on doctors named on Web sites.

Within hours of the death of one doctor, Dr Barnett Slepian, his name on the Web site had a line put through it. Other doctors have resorted to wearing disguises, wearing bullet-proof jackets, fortifying their houses, educating their kids on what to do if they hear gunfire and varying their route to work.

The anti-abortionists logic is explained on the site under the heading "why this must be done". It says: "One of the great tragedies of the Nuremberg trials of Nazis after WWII was that complete information and documented evidence had not been collected so many war criminals went free or were only found guilty of minor crimes. We do not want the same thing to happen when the day comes to charge abortionists with their crimes. We anticipate the day when these people will be charged in PERFECTLY LEGAL COURTS once the tide of this nation's opinion turns against the wanton slaughter of God's children (as it surely will)."

Of course, when you combine religion with law with freedom of speech and you have one almighty American row.

Comparing doctors that legally perform abortions on willing women to Nazi war criminals is plainly ridiculous but from a fundamentalist Christian perspective it's the same. How this allows for the deliberate targeting of those individuals is a case of more rhetoric. You either trust in the jurisdiction of the courts and the law of the land or you don't - it's not a pick n' mix. Therefore you should break from society (and end up in jail) or attempt to change the law within the law.

And the law has given the anti-abortionists support on this issue. They are entitled to publish the material due to freedom of speech. The judge made the point that violence has frequently been a part of political protest in American history. "In more modern times, the labour, anti-war, animal rights and environmental movements have all had their violent fringes," said Judge Alex Kozinski. "As a result, much of what was said by non-violent participants acquired a tinge of menace. If their statements [the Web sites] merely encouraged unrelated terrorists then their words are protected by the first amendment."

The US legal situation is very different to one on this side of the Atlantic but you have to ask whether putting personal details next to such strongly worded comments when the effect is known to have led to deaths should be protected. In the UK there is such a thing an incitement to cause violence/racism etc.

Should freedom of speech extend to the restriction of others' lives? Should it mean libel without comeback? Should it override the legal system? Very tough questions. The other question is: will more be lost than gained by making freedom of speech more responsible? In this case, a federal judge says yes. ®

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