Wichita A judge who decided against ordering an anti-abortion activist to stay away from an abortion doctor he allegedly threatened now must decide whether to throw out a lawsuit the U.S. Justice Department filed against the activist.
U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten is weighing whether to toss the lawsuit against Angel Dillard, which the department filed under a federal law aimed at protecting access to abortion services. The government contends the 44-year-old Valley Center woman sent a threatening letter to Dr. Mila Means, a Wichita doctor who is training to offer abortion services at her practice.
Dillard wrote a rambling letter in January saying thousands of people from across the United States were looking into Means’ background: “They will know your habits and routines. They know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live. You will be checking under your car every day — because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.”
Marten, calling the First Amendment the “absolute bedrock of this country’s freedom,” denied in April the government’s request for a preliminary injunction seeking to keep Dillard at least 250 feet away from the doctor. He said at the time that although Dillard’s letter was clearly meant to intimidate Means, it did not constitute a “true threat.”
The judge also ordered both sides to present written briefs before he sets a hearing on a defense request to dismiss the lawsuit, which was filed by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. A hearing date has not yet been set.
The last of those court pleadings was filed late Tuesday night — setting the stage for a courtroom showdown on the limits of First Amendment protections that will decide whether the Justice Department’s civil complaint survives.
Dillard’s defense attorney, Donald McKinney, argued in his filing that in order to comply with First Amendment safeguards the government must show that the speech consisted of more than intimidation and that the speaker intended to inflict bodily harm, rather than cause “merely anxiety or fear.”
“Angel Dillard is entitled to First Amendment protection,” McKinney wrote. “She has already paid dearly to defend herself from the government’s onslaught. The First Amendment should be eroded no further.”
The government contends Dillard’s speech is not protected by the First Amendment, arguing in a court document that the reference to explosives under the doctor’s car is impossible to downplay.
“It is the crux of the threat and presents a truly frightening image, and any attempt to minimize its importance as Defendant does is simply to ignore reality,” the Justice Department wrote. “Moreover, Defendant cannot hide her threat behind the guise of political statements.”
Abortions have not been openly performed in Wichita since Dr. George Tiller, one of the nation’s few late-term abortion providers, was fatally shot in May 2009 by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder as the physician served as an usher at his Wichita church.