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Abortion foes file suit over ban on graphic signs

By The Associated Press


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GREAT FALLS, Mont. — Abortion opponents here have filed a federal lawsuit against three city officials, claiming they violated protesters' rights with a one-week ban on graphic signs depicting aborted fetuses.

The lawsuit against Assistant City Attorney Kory Larsen and two unidentified police officers seeks unspecified damages.

"We want to make it clear that the First Amendment protects the rights of pro-lifers to peacefully speak out against killing the unborn," said Robert Muise, a lawyer with the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, which helped three Great Falls abortion opponents file the lawsuit.

City Manager John Lawton declined to comment about the suit, saying he had not reviewed it. "We will read it carefully and respond in due course," he said.

Larsen, along with the two unidentified police officers, ordered abortion protesters on Aug. 10 to remove signs with graphic pictures of aborted fetuses from a spot in front of the Great Falls Planned Parenthood office.

Larsen said the signs were creating a public nuisance and a risk to public safety, blaming them for at least one traffic accident in which a driver was distracted by the signs.

His order drew fire, and the city quickly reversed it.

Filing the suit were Great Falls residents Jonathan Martin, Michael and Rebekah Stamp and three of the Stamps' children.

Martin said the protesters decided to move forward with the lawsuit despite the city's decision to rescind the ban.

"Our rights were violated, even if it's now past tense," he said.

In addition, Martin said city officials did not respond to Muise's demand that the city guarantee it would not interfere with the anti-abortion protests "in any way."


Wisconsin appeals court upholds conviction of abortion protester
Judges reject pastor's argument that the public-safety law violated his free-speech rights.  03.15.00

Federal judge strikes down Michigan law barring depictions of violence
Anti-abortion activist filed suit after being told statute prevented her from displaying photo of aborted fetus during sidewalk protest.  02.18.02

ACLU backs abortion protester cited for graphic poster
Group files brief with 6th Circuit, saying lower court decision dismissing Ohio preacher's lawsuit 'allows the censorship of the mob enforced at the hands of the police.'  06.25.02