Friday, October 21, 2011

Holding the Pro-Life Movement Legally Responsible for Harassment and Violence

The Ku Klux Klan. Church of the Creator. Ranch Rescue. Aryan Nations. The YMCA.

Question: What do these organizations have to do with each other?
Answer: They all were either totally or nearly bankrupted by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of a civil law suit.

Most of the cases mentioned above were racially-charged, but go with me on this one: what if they were based on gender and the right to privacy?
According the US Census Bureau, women make up 50.7% of the American population, making them the largest targeted demographic for gender-based hate organizations like Operation Rescue, Youth Ministries, Inc., Lambs of Christ, and even the local Small Victories. These terrorist groups aim their hate speech, fists, guns, and bombs at women, their doctors, and their rights, yet they somehow manage to avoid being criminally prosecuted.

I have a crazy thought - what if we held these organizations, linked to assault, battery, harassment, arson, and murder, to the same standards held to the KKK, Christian Knights, and other organizations of the like? As in, we go for their pocketbooks, just as the SPLC did to take down racism in the South. Civil lawsuits do not always end in loads of punitive damages, but a handful of them end up in social change. For an example, see Brown v. Board of Education, any case about creationism being taught in public schools, and of course, Roe v. Wade. Few end up with huge awards, like the crown jewel of the SPLC's legal repertoire, Macedonia Baptist Church v. Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which resulted in the largest civil damages award ever in the amount of $37.8 million. Obviously, this bankrupted the KKK in South Carolina, which was forced to give up all property holdings and its headquarters to barely make a dent in the awarded damages.

I'll give you a very relevant example, VanDuyn v. Smith (Ill. Appellate Court, 1988). Margaret VanDuyn, a director of an ambulatory surgical treatment center that offered first trimester abortions, who filed suit against Pro-Life Action League activist Gerald T. Smith in 1988. Smith had followed Ms. VanDuyn in her car, to her home, to the airport, and to work, in addition to picketing in front of her house and outside of her workplace (admitting to violating Illinois state law). Smith also posted "Wanted" posters around Ms. VanDuyn's neighborhood and gave them to her friends, family, and acquaintances. Smith publicly accused Ms. VanDuyn of killing more than 50,000 "children" for profit and included false information about abortion procedures, none of which were performed in the medical center.

Ms. VanDuyn, as a result, suffered severe emotional distress, experiencing panic attacks, irregular hypertension, insomnia, and hospitalization. She brought a suit against Smith, and was able to successfully prove intentional infliction of emotional distress as a result of the defendant's actions against her. The court reasoned that, since Ms. VanDuyn was not a public official or figure, she had a reasonable expectation of privacy which was blatantly violated by Smith and the pro-life movement. Ms. VanDuyn's suit was for $15,000 - which is money that a lot of pro-life organizations don't have. Unfortunately, Ms. VanDuyn's National Health Care Services Clinic was firebombed in 1993, but you better believe the ATF and FBI had a good clue as to who was behind the terrorism (

I can tell you exactly where the pro-choice movement has it all wrong: we rely too much on the police and the government to intervene and assert our rights and protections as American citizens. But guess what. Abortion is still too touchy of an issue for anyone to have the chutzpah to step up and stand for women's rights. This is where we take our fate into our own hands, and file civil suits against these misogynist, criminal bullies.

Now, I will issue a disclaimer that just because you take some photos or video footage doesn't mean you have a guaranteed case. No lawsuit is ever guaranteed, no matter how solid the evidence. But with a fed-up clinic employee, a passionate lawyer, and some sound logic and proof, you have the potential for a strong case. And never, ever incite violence or retribution. Just like the KKK and other domestic terrorist organizations, pro-life groups want our protesters to "violate" their civil rights. We in the pro-choice movement must always take the high road.

To me, this whole issue is full of irony and hypocrisy. Pro-lifers can infiltrate our legislature, assault and bomb their way to the top, and pass laws that restrict our legal right to autonomous decisions, but heaven forbid if we step on their toes a little bit to assert that right.