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Law School Case Brief

Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette, Inc. v. Am. Coal. of Life Activists - 290 F.3d 1058 (9th Cir. 2002)

Rule:

"Threat of force" in the Freedom of Access to Clinics Entrances Act (FACE) means a statement which, in the entire context and under all the circumstances, a reasonable person would foresee would be interpreted by those to whom the statement is communicated as a serious expression of intent to inflict bodily harm upon that person. So defined, a threatening statement that violates FACE is unprotected under the First Amendment.

Facts:

Four physicians, and two health clinics that provide medical services to women including abortions brought suit under the Freedom of Access to Clinics Entrances Act (FACE) claiming that they were targeted with threats by defendants  American Coalition of Life Activists (Activists), who posted posters identifying the identity of the doctors. The posters were circulated in the wake of a series of posters that had identified other doctors who performed abortions before they were murdered. Although the posters did not contain a threat on their face, the district court held that context could be considered. It defined a threat under FACE as a statement made when "a reasonable person would foresee that the statement would be interpreted by those to whom the maker communicates the statement as a serious expression of intent to harm.” The jury returned a verdict in the physicians’ favor. The district court then enjoined the Activists from publishing the posters. The Activists appealed.

Issue:

Did the posters posted by the activist groups constitute a threat under FACE?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court held that the posters constituted a true threat. The Court reasoned that in three prior incidents, a "wanted"-type poster identifying a specific doctor who provided abortion services was circulated, and the doctor named on the poster was killed. The Activists and physicians knew of this, and both understood the significance of the particular posters specifically identifying each of them. Moreover, there was substantial evidence that these posters were prepared and disseminated to intimidate physicians from providing reproductive health services. Finally, the Court held that restraining the Activists from continuing to threaten these physicians burdened speech no more than necessary.

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