On Trial: Hit List on the Net

Jury selection has begun in Portland, Ore. for a trial in federal court that will test some of the limits of free speech on the Internet. The trial \n pits Planned Parenthood, a women's health center and several doctors against radical anti-abortion groups that appear to advocate the murder of those who perform abortion. \n The Web site in question, dubbed the Nuremberg Files, lists the names of hundreds of doctors who perform abortion. It also lists the addresses, license plate numbers and, in some cases, the names of their children. \n In addition, the site gives the personal history of each doctor, the property owned, physical appearance and wedding anniversary dates. It asks visitors to the site to send in even more information about the doctors, including descriptions of their cars, their houses, their friends and their children. \n The scariest part, however, is that there are lines through the names of the four doctors and two clinic workers killed by anti-abortion terrorists since 1993. Those who have been wounded are shaded in gray. The arrangement makes the information look like a hit list that proposes the murder or injury of all who are on it. \n It all appeared more ominous when, last October, after the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian near Buffalo, N.Y., his name was crossed off the list. \n Planned Parenthood and the other plaintiffs say the Web site is in violation of the 1994 Clinic Entrances Act, which has been used to prosecute those who firebombed clinics and attacked doctors. It's never been used to take action against a Web site. \n The defendants include the American Coalition of Life Advocates, an umbrella organization, and the radical Advocates for Life Ministries, based in Portland. One defendant, Michael Bray, who was imprisoned nearly four years for setting fire to abortion clinics, said the site was nothing more than a political protest and that the suit attempted to thwart free speech. If the plaintiffs win, he said, it could backfire because the only course of action left would be to blow up clinics and kill doctors.