By ROXANA HEGEMAN
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) – The Justice Department under President Barack Obama has taken a harder line against anti-abortion activists accused of trying to block access to clinics, suing at least a half-dozen of them under a federal law that lay mostly dormant during the Bush administration.
The law, written to protect people who seek or provide abortions, was revived after Obama took office and in the wake of the 2009 slaying of Kansas abortion provider George Tiller, who was shot to death moments before Sunday services were to begin at his Wichita church.
Since Obama’s inauguration, federal lawsuits have been filed against a woman who blocked a car from entering a clinic in West Palm Beach, Fla.; a Texas man who threw his body across the door of a patient waiting area in San Antonio; and a Pennsylvania man who posted on the Internet the names and addresses of abortion providers and extolled his readers to kill them.
Government records obtained by The Associated Press show that in slightly over two years, the Obama Justice Department has filed six lawsuits under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, mostly to seek injunctions and fines. That compares with just one such lawsuit during the entire eight years of George W. Bush.
Tiller’s slaying “brought home to many of us the terrible potential for violence and the need to use every legal means at our disposal to prevent it,” said Barry Grissom, U.S. attorney for Kansas.
President Bill Clinton signed the law in 1994 after a turbulent period that included massive sit-ins at clinics, clinic bombings and other anti-abortion activities that culminated with Tiller being wounded in a 1993 shooting. The Clinton Justice Department subsequently filed 17 civil lawsuits under the law during his remaining term.
Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who follows the federal judiciary, said Justice Department decisions usually mirror the president’s views. He was not surprised to see the government acting more aggressively.
“I think President Bush was pretty clear about his position on that type of issue,” Tobias said. “It is less clear what the present administration’s position is, but maybe it is partly reflected in their willingness to be more rigorous about enforcing it.”
Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, has said protecting abortion providers so they can do their jobs is of the “utmost importance.”
The Justice Department “will continue to aggressively enforce the FACE Act against those who seek to violate the rights of their fellow Americans to safely provide or obtain such services,” Perez said in announcing the Kansas lawsuit.
The figures do not include criminal prosecutions, which have been more consistent from one White House to the next during the early years of the Bush and Obama administrations.
The law was heavily used in the years immediately after it took effect. During President Bill Clinton’s two terms, 37 criminal prosecutions were filed, compared with 18 under Bush and six under Obama. Since the law was enacted, the Justice Department has filed criminal cases against a total of 89 defendants, convicting 86 of them.
To read more, visit:Â http://apnews.myway.com/article/20110504/D9N0U3JO1.html
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