Abortion remains a controversial topic but reproductive choice is a constitutional right. Yet thousands of extremists have focused their attention on harassing and terrorizing abortion providers, organizations, clinics, patients, and advocates. These activities include but aren’t limited to threats, violence, intimidation, stalking, online harassment and doxxing, and – historically – murder. Our experience helping victims of sexual privacy violations provides a solid base for our expansion into fighting for targets of anti-abortion terrorism.
The daily threat of terror and violence must stop.
- Doxxing – Extremists will publish and circulate identifying and/or private information of providers and their families in order to create ‘hit lists’ or encourage other like-minded individuals to harass providers online, at work, or at home.
- Targeted Online Harassment – Providers, advocates, and patients are often the subject of online harassment on message boards, anti-abortion websites, social media sites, review sites like yelp and google reviews – as part of online campaigns designed to intimidate them.
- Reproductive healthcare clinics are targets of vandalism, trespassing, and other crimes on their property.
- Buffer zones are defined spaces around clinic entrances that can be established by statute or injunction. Buffer zones enable clinic access for patients by prohibiting certain activities within the defined space (while still allowing space for protest).
Sometimes, anti-abortion activists re-appropriate articles or photographs published by individuals that write about or work in the reproductive justice community. For example, huge swaths of an article published by an individual telling about their abortion experience will wind up on pro-life websites, inciting readers to harass the storyteller. That’s a copyright infringement. Sometimes they also post the storyteller’s picture that they found elsewhere on the internet. Also a copyright infringement.
We will look at criminal, civil, and available family court remedies to take on and stop stalking behavior. Definitions of stalking vary, but it’s illegal in all 50 states. Generally, stalking is a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. It’s serious, often violent, and can escalate. Criminal stalking laws are here and civil laws are here. Stalking can and should be reported to the police. If you want general information about stalking, the Stalking Resource Center is a powerful resource. If you need legal help, we are here to assist.
If you are being stalked, please be careful on social media. For example, immediately restrict your Facebook settings, require permission for anybody to post on your wall or tag you in a photo, and make sure your friends list is private. Enable two-factor authentication on all accounts, devices, cloud storage systems, modems, create unique complex passphrases and answer security questions in unexpected ways (e.g., “Q: What’s your mother’s maiden name? A: The Dress is White and Gold”). Lock your doors. Stay alert. Stay safe.
Incidents of hacking and security breaches against the reproductive health community has increased as anti-abortion activism has moved online. Online threats are not limited to messages and videos posted to various websites or social media platforms, but have also included sophisticated attacks to the websites, systems, and online infrastructure that individuals and groups rely on to provide information about and access to abortion care. For example, patients have been targeted by geo-fencing technology as they access clinics, or redirected to websites with misinformation or alternative messaging. We recognize these threats and are committed to taking creative action to combat them.
There have been some recent high-profile cases that involve hidden cameras or stealth recording devices that were installed or used unbeknownst to the individuals being recorded. Sometimes these images or recordings wind up on the internet, or become the subject of public controversy. In addition to pursuing criminal proceedings (if available), victims can sue in civil court for the damages suffered as a result of the privacy invasion.
Defamation is a blanket term for a statement that injures someone’s reputation. Written defamation is called “libel.” Spoken defamation is called “slander.” In almost all states, defamation is not a crime. However, a defamed person can sue the defamer. The public perception of what constitutes “defamation” is quite different from the legal definition. This causes disappointment for many would-be litigants. In a defamation lawsuit, the defamed person must prove that there’s been a statement that is all of the following: 1) published, 2) false, 3) injurious, and 4) unprivileged.
Importantly, the statement must be false. Even if the statement is incredibly mean or nasty, if it looks like an opinion, it is not defamation. The plaintiff must prove that it is objectively false. Truth is always a defense in a defamation suit.
A great deal of defamation happens online. Online service providers generally cannot be held liable for content that users post. They can, however, be asked to remove defamatory content and can be subpoenaed to provide user information (e.g. IP address, etc.) about the person who posted the information. Remember, though, if it’s true it’s not defamation, though it may trigger different invasion of privacy claims, depending on the state where the case will be brought.
Four causes of action have been recognized under the tort of invasion of privacy: intrusion upon seclusion, false light, publication of private facts, and appropriation. The privacy torts available to a victim vary depending on the state where the invasion occurred.
In some states you can sue if somebody publicly disclosed private facts about another person, even if those facts are true. The private facts are those that relate to a person’s personal life that have not been published before, are not of legitimate public concern, and the publication would be offensive to a reasonable person. Examples would include revealing somebody’s sexually transmitted infection or outing someone’s sexual orientation.
However, public figures must also prove that the nonconsensual disclosure was not newsworthy or a matter of legitimate public interest. Courts take a broad view of what constitutes newsworthiness or a matter of public interest. They tend to rule that there is a legitimate public interest in most recent media events and the private lives of prominent figures like movie stars, politicians, and professional athletes. Fortunately, courts do recognize that even public figures are entitled to retain a zone of privacy relating to things like sexual activity and medical information.
Patients, their companions, providers, and clinic escorts may find they are the subject of digital recordings that are uploaded to the internet to social media sites or websites devoted to anti-choice activity. While filming another in a public place may not be illegal, it is egregious violation of privacy in this context. We are committed to fighting for and protecting your privacy, whether you work at a clinic or have visited one.