When a young woman named Emily arrived at a Denver clinic Tuesday for a scheduled abortion, she was greeted by a crowd of anti-abortion activists, who tried to shame her into changing her mind.
As they followed her along the sidewalk, she repeatedly told them, "It's my choice, it's my decision!"
Once inside the clinic's parking lot, she thought she was free of them. She was wrong.
One of the protesters was taking her picture from atop a ladder that looked over a wall.
That photo may very well end up on a Web site that is using a new tactic in the battle against abortion — posting pictures of patients who walk into abortion clinics.
The Web site is operated by anti-abortion activist Neal Horsley from his home in Georgia.
He says it is a news outlet, with photographers contributing pictures from 24 states.
"The fact is," says Horsley, "that as a journalist, we [sic] have an obligation to report when human beings are being slaughtered."
The photographers who take the pictures cannot distinguish between those women going into the clinic for an abortion and those going in for other reasons, such as counseling, but the protesters say anyone going in is a fair target.
Jo Scott, who was outside the Denver clinic with her photographer husband, said "I wouldn't worry about snaring innocent people. There aren't any, going into a 'death camp.'"
Patients Are Newest Target, Not Doctors
A lawsuit filed by doctors who claimed a similar Web site had put their lives in danger is working its way through the courts. Horsley's "Nuremburg Files" site featured wanted posters of abortion providers, and had Xs through the names of doctors who had been killed. A federal appeals court ruled recently that those elements of the site constituted a "true threat," and Horsley has altered the site some.
Even though Horsley's newer site does not list names and addresses, some of the volunteer escorts who accompany women into the clinics fear for their safety.
"There's supposedly an idiot fringe that wants to kill doctors," says Planned Parenthood volunteer Bill Moller, "and they may decide next they want to kill patients."
One young woman, who had just had an abortion at the Denver facility, said she was outraged to learn that her photo might be posted on the Internet.
"It's an invasion of privacy," she says. "I think there's got to be some law against it. I know there is."
She added that being photographed added more trauma to an already traumatic day. "It's a very hard choice for anybody. It's not like I'm going to wake up and say 'Happy Day, I'm going to go and have an abortion.'"
Out on the street, the battle lines are clear. The activists believe their strategy is heroic. Their targets believe it is harassment.
Protected By First Amendment
The legal battle lines, however, are not clear. The protesters say the Web site is protected by the First Amendment.
"We take pictures of people who are in public," says Horsley. "I don't believe people have a right to privacy in public."
There is no constitutional guarantee to privacy for people in public spaces, but civil statutes do address the issue.
"The law says you can't make a public disclosure about a private fact," says University of Southern California law professor Irwin Chemerinsky. "And that means you can't tell something about a person that's embarrassing, that the person would want to keep secret, or there's no newsworthiness to it."
The anti-abortion activists say it is newsworthy. The patients say it is an outrage. One woman already has filed suit against a similar Web site that posted her photo. So the courts may soon have an answer.