Back in 2011, one of Kansas’ most ardent abortion opponents sent a graphic letter to a Wichita doctor warning her not to start offering abortion services, or else she could potentially be blown up by a car bomb. Now she faces a awsuit from the federal Department of Justice alleging that letter amounted to a death threat. The case finally went to trial this week.
After George Tiller was gunned down by Scott Roeder in 2009, it would be several years before abortions would be performed again in Kansas’ biggest city. But apparently that didn’t deter veteran pro-life–er, forced-birth–activist Angel Dillard. You may remember her from the 2009 documentary “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Watch a clip here.
According to Justice’s complaint, Dillard got word that Mila Means, a Wichita family practitioner, was considering going into the abortion business. This prompted her to fire off a letter to Means warning her that she would face dire consequences if she did so.
Recalling Tiller’s death, Dillard wondered if Means was aware of “the consequences of killing the innocent,” and put her on notice that she and other forced-birthers were not about to “let this abomination continue without doing everything we can to stop it.” How far were they willing to go? Well, I’ll let Dillard tell you.
“Thousands of people are already looking into your background, not just in Wichita, but from all over the US. They will know your habits and routines. They will know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live. You will be checking under your car everyday-because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.”
That would send a chill down anyone’s spine. Means was even more unnerved when she learned that Dillard was a chest-beating supporter of Roeder. In 2009, Dillard told The Associated Press that by killing Tiller, Roeder “was able … to accomplish what we had not been able to do.” Means ultimately decided against providing abortions, and took a number of security measures in the event some bottom-feeder went after her anyway.
However, she also the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, who filed a lawsuit against Dillard under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. That law had been passed in 1994 in response to a wave of violence against abortion clinics. The lawsuit sought a permanent injunction barring Dillard from ever contacting Means again or from coming within 250 feet of her Means, her home, her car or her workplace. Justice also wanted Dillard to pay $5,000 in damages to Means and a $15,000 civil penalty.
Sounds like a slam-dunk, right? Well, rather than have the decency to apologize to Means, Dillard contended that her letter was protected speech. In 2013, federal judge J. Thomas Marten sided with Dillard. Marten ruled that as outrageous as her letter was, it wasn’t specific enough to constitute a “true threat” of violence. However, last April, a panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the lawsuit to go forward, ruling that a jury could plausibly find the letter to be a true threat.
During opening arguments on Tuesday, Dillard’s lawyers claimed–presumably with a straight face–that Dillard has not abandoned the way of nonviolence, and actually sent the letter as a way to help Means. They also contend that the government is trying to use this case to legally gag abortion opponents. Uh huh. I’d like to know how someone who warns a doctor about “the consequences of killing the innocent” and warns her that one day someone may put a bomb under that doctor’s car believes in nonviolence. Closing arguments were expected to begin on Thursday.
Regardless of how this lawsuit turns out, this is a conversation that needed to happen. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Dillard took the stand to explain what she was thinking when she sent that letter. While it’s possible that she may escape being held liable on technical grounds, any anti-abortion group in Kansas that has even an iota of decency will cut ties with Dillard, and now.