Abortion doctors striking back Abortion foes' targets now suing for millions

October 27, 1995|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Abortion doctors, saying they now fear for their lives as targets of militant foes of abortion, joined with clinics yesterday to open a new front in a nationwide legal war.

A lawsuit filed in Portland, Ore., seeking a minimum of $200 million in damages to be paid to doctors and clinics nationwide, is the second major legal assault taken to federal courts in recent years and is a sign of an escalation of courtroom battles against anti-abortion forces.

Earlier this week, a federal jury in Dallas awarded a doctor who performed abortions and his wife $8.6 million in damages for emotional distress and invasion of privacy inflicted by abortion foes outside the doctor's home and the workplaces of both the doctor and his wife.

Another massive lawsuit, pursued on behalf of abortion clinics nationwide, has been working its way slowly toward a trial in Chicago. Filed nine years ago, and last year given the Supreme )) Court's permission to go ahead, the suit may reach a trial next spring, clinics lawyer Fay Clayton said yesterday.

Both lawsuits seek to collect heavy damage verdicts from anti-abortion groups and their leaders and associates, with the highest dollar claims made under the 1970 federal anti-racketeering law.

The new case in Portland federal court adds significant -- and potentially expensive -- claims under the federal abortion clinic protection law that Congress passed last year. Like the Chicago case, it seeks damages for all clinics nationwide. It also makes a claim on behalf of all doctors across the country who perform abortions.

Accusing anti-abortion groups and individuals of mounting a campaign to promote violence and death as justified punishment for abortion doctors, the new lawsuit is aimed at two groups and 14 individuals, including two Maryland men active in the anti-abortion movement -- Donald Treshman of Baltimore and Michael Bray of Laurel. Neither could be reached for comment.

Among the doctors joining in the lawsuit are three who have been listed on a "deadly dozen" poster accusing them of "crimes against humanity" -- Dr. Warren M. Hern of Boulder, Colo., and Drs. Elizabeth and James Newhall of Portland. That list was circulated by one of the anti-abortion groups named in the new lawsuit, the American Coalition of Life Activists.

Another doctor who sued yesterday was Dr. Robert Crist of St. Louis, who has been named on an anti-abortion group's "wanted" poster and whose home was hit by a shotgun blast in 1993.

According to the lawsuit, a wave of shootings since March 1993, when Dr. David Gunn of Pensacola, Fla., was killed, has left four doctors or clinic staff members dead and eight wounded. The organizations and individuals sued yesterday, the lawsuit contends, have not opposed such violence but "actively promote it." However, the lawsuit does not accuse any one of the organizations or individuals of a direct role in any shooting.

One of the individuals named in the lawsuit is Dawn Marie Stover of Hillsboro, Ore., the assistant director for one of the sued organizations, Advocates for Life Ministries. She said in a telephone interview that the lawsuit "is, 100 percent, an attempt to halt our free speech rights."

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