Feds Probing Anti-Abortion Web Site
MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN
Nov. 06, 1998
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A new federal task force will look into the shooting of abortion doctors in upstate New York, bomb threats and phony anthrax contamination letters at clinics and an Internet site that lists physicians who have been shot as ``wounded'' or ``fatality.''
Those assignments were outlined Thursday by Associate Attorney General Raymond C. Fisher for the task force on anti-abortion violence that officials said likely would be announced next week when final arrangements are complete.
``We are now heavily engaged in developing a new plan which will build on what we've done already,'' Fisher, the Justice Department's No. 3 official, told reporters.
Federal prosecutors will use one or more grand juries to help gather evidence, a senior Justice Department official added, requesting anonymity. Discussions are under way with doctors, abortion rights groups, the FBI, U.S. Marshals, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and local law enforcement officials in upstate New York and Canada about investigative and security measures.
Fisher said the new effort was motivated by the killing of a Buffalo, N.Y., doctor last month, the wounding of four other abortion providers in New York and Canada over the past four years, and the letters sent to 10 clinics in four states last week falsely claiming to contain deadly anthrax spores. One clinic also received a false bomb in the mail.
``It's a very, very troubling development because you have women and health care providers who are engaged in what is their perfect right, constitutional right, to have health care services,'' Fisher said. ``And you have violence which is being directed at these people, and it's not something we can tolerate.''
In 1994, the Justice Department convened a grand jury in Alexandria, Va., to look into whether a national conspiracy plotted a wave of anti-abortion violence that culminated in the July 1994 killing of Dr. John Britton and his escort, James Barrett, outside a Pensacola, Fla., clinic.
That grand jury disbanded in early 1996 without finding a national conspiracy, but it forwarded evidence about a handful of clinic arsons to federal grand juries around the country and they brought indictments.
``If there is further evidence that leads to a finding of a conspiracy, we would pursue that, obviously,'' Fisher said Thursday.
Top Justice officials met this week with representatives of the American Medical Association and five other doctors' groups seeking protection.
They complained about an Internet Web site that lists 225 physicians who perform abortions and gives their home and office addresses. It solicits information, photos and videos of them, their families and friends. The site draws a line through the names of doctors who have been murdered and lists them as ``fatality.'' Those who have been shot but survived are listed as ``wounded.'' The unharmed are listed as ``working.''
``The AMA is quite concerned about it, so we will look at it,'' Fisher told reporters. ``But whether there is a specific remedy for it, we don't know yet.''
Fisher explained: ``Obviously, there is a very serious free speech issue here. We do not want to intrude on people's right of free speech.'' But he said the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act contains provisions ``that allow us to deal with actual threats of violence.''
Federal prosecutors successfully used that act this week against a bizarre clinic threat. In Little Rock, Ark., J. Fred Hart Jr. was convicted of violating the act for parking yellow Ryder rental trucks outside two abortion clinics. Although the trucks contained no explosives, prosecutors said Hart was aware he would cause fear by his placement of the trucks because the bomb that demolished the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995 was left in a yellow Ryder truck. He faces up a year in jail and a $20,000 fine.
Already, federal officials have sent notices to abortion providers advising that the U.S. Marshals Service will work with clinics to assess threats and improve security, Fisher said. In 1994, federal marshals were stationed temporarily at two dozen threatened clinics. ``If it's needed, protection will be assigned,'' a senior Justice official said Thursday.
The FBI is seeking anti-abortion activist James Charles Kopp as a material witness because a car registered to him was seen in the vicinity of Dr. Barnett Slepian, murdered Oct. 23 by a sniper who fired into his suburban Buffalo home, Fisher said.