Kansas judge James Beasley heard oral arguments Tuesday on whether to dismiss a protection order that an abortion clinic director filed against anti-abortion extremist Mark Holick.
Julie Burkhart, director of the South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita and executive director of Trust Women, an organization dedicated to protecting women’s access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, won the temporary protective order in March against Holick, the Wichita regional director of extremist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue/Operation Save America. As reported in Ms., Holick distributed WANTED-style flyers with Burkhart’s picture and home address on them, and in February 2013 he positioned a large sign at Burkhart’s home, which she shares with her husband and young daughter, that said “Where’s your church?” – interpreted as a reference to the 2009 assassination of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in his church. Burkhart had worked closely with Dr. Tiller and considers him a mentor. Burkhart’s clinic is located in the same building that housed Dr. Tiller’s clinic, and Holick has said that he meets and corresponds with Scott Roeder, the anti-abortion extremist who murdered Dr. Tiller.
Holick argues that his behavior is constitutionally protected free speech.
“Anti-abortion extremists using violence, stalking, and threats should not be able to hide behind the first amendment,” said Katherine Spillar, Executive Vice President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “These intimidation tactics must end.”
Anti-abortion protestors are also using free speech arguments against a Massachusetts clinic buffer zone law. Buffer zone laws have been enacted – and constitutionally upheld – in several states and localities to protect doctors, patients, and clinic staff from anti-abortion intimidation and violence. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide this term whether the Massachusetts law is constitutional.