Anti-Abortion Activist On Trial For 'Wanted' Posters The trial for anti-abortion activist Flip Benham, who is accused of distributing "wanted" posters that target doctors who perform abortions, begins Monday. Some consider the posters a First Amendment right, but abortion rights activists say the posters are threatening.

Anti-Abortion Activist On Trial For 'Wanted' Posters

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NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.

KATHY LOHR: Detective Milton Harris, with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, says this violated the state's new law against targeting an individual at his home.

D: By them handing out the fliers with the doctors' photos on it, that was an indication to us that they were actually singling those doctors out within that residential neighborhood, to protest.

LOHR: Harris says this is the first prosecution under the new law.

MONTAGNE: The purpose of the law is to protect that person's identity against a lone-wolf assailant coming in there and possibly doing harm to that individual or their family.

LOHR: Benham denies the posters are a threat. He says they're a tool to inform the community about doctors who are performing abortions, an act that Benham considers murder.

MONTAGNE: What we put on the poster were their pictures and then: Wanted by Jesus to Stop Killing Babies.

LOHR: Benham says the city is just trying to silence those who oppose abortion.

MONTAGNE: We still live in America, and we do have First Amendment rights and - as we call them - responsibilities to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

LOHR: But abortion rights advocates say there's a clear history of violence against doctors featured in wanted posters. They're concerned because they haven't seen these posters circulated since the late 1990s, when several doctors were murdered.

MONTAGNE: This is not free speech. This is the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theater.

LOHR: Kathy Spillar is with the Feminist Majority Foundation, a national group that tracks violence against abortion providers.

MONTAGNE: These wanted posters are communicating a threat to these abortion providers and essentially, they become targets of anti-abortion extremists willing to kill.

LOHR: In a similar case back in 2002, a federal appeals court found abortion protesters did violate a federal law that makes it a crime to use force, or the threat of force, to prevent people from accessing clinics. The court found that wanted posters were not free speech, but a true threat. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, which means the question is not resolved. Lucinda Finley is a law professor at the University of Buffalo.

P: Whether the historical context of a wanted poster and subsequent act of violence by someone else other than the group putting out the wanted poster - whether that is enough to meet the very strict legal test for a threat, is a very difficult legal case to make.

LOHR: Kathy Lohr, NPR News.


MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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