DOJ plans to appeal Kansas abortion threat case

10/11/2013

WICHITA (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department is challenging a ruling that an abortion opponent's letter to a Wichita doctor saying someone might place an explosive under her car is constitutionally protected speech.

WICHITA (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department is challenging a ruling that an abortion opponent's letter to a Wichita doctor saying someone might place an explosive under her car is constitutionally protected speech.

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division filed a brief notice Thursday saying it plans to appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals a federal judge's summary decision in August that the letter from Angel Dillard was not a "true threat" under the law.

The Justice Department sued Dillard in 2011 under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act after the Valley Center woman wrote a letter to Dr. Mila Means, who was training to offer abortion services at her Wichita clinic. At the time, no doctor was doing abortions in Wichita in the wake of Dr. George Tiller's 2009 murder by an abortion opponent.

Dillard wrote in her letter that thousands of people from across the nation were scrutinizing Means' background and would know "your habits and routines."

"They know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live," the letter said. "You will be checking under your car every day — because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it."

U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten ruled after a spate of secret court filings and refused the government's request to unseal those documents, saying in his decision that the government supplied no evidence that actual violence against Means was likely or imminent.

While the defense hailed the decision at the time as a victory for the First Amendment, the government insisted federal law protects the right of doctors to deliver lawful reproductive health services free from threats of violence.

"The government has more important things to do with taxpayer dollars than hound a housewife who wrote one letter to a person who never performed a single abortion in Wichita," defense attorney Donald McKinney said in an email Thursday. "The Feds should pick on someone more their size, like terrorist networks or drug cartels."

The judge also rejected the government's request for a permanent injunction prohibiting Dillard from again contacting Means. He was persuaded by the defense argument that she would have no reason to do so since Means no longer plans to offer abortion services in Kansas.

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