Thursday, May 25, 2000

Abortion foes, feds settle case

Accused of blocking clinic access

The Associated Press

        DAYTON, Ohio — The government has reached a tentative settlement with abortion protesters accused of violating a federal law by blocking access to reproductive health clinics.

        Justice Department spokeswoman Kara Peterman said Wednesday she would release no details until the tentative settlement is approved by U.S. District Judge Walter Rice. There was no timetable for when the judge is to rule whether he would accept the settlement.

        Defendants are the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue and several abortion protesters. They were accused of blocking access to clinics in Cincinnati, Dayton and Kettering, a Dayton suburb, during protests in July 1997.

        The defendants denied illegally blocking entrances.

        The defendants include the Rev. Philip Benham, director of Operation Rescue in Garland, Texas, and David Mehaffie of Dayton, director of Return to Truth.

        The settlement headed off, for now, a trial before Judge Rice. The trial had been scheduled last week, but was postponed while attorneys negotiated.

        The first trial before Judge Rice ended in a mistrial in September. Defense attorneys said they weren't notified then of what a prosecution witness was to have testified about.

        During the September trial, government lawyers sought to identify the individual defendants as being among those who illegally blocked entrances to the clinics. The government wanted the judge to bar protesters from hindering future access to the clinics.

        The Justice Department brought the case in March 1998 under the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

        The government has prosecuted dozens of abortion protesters under the 1994 law. It bars the use of force, threats or blockades to interfere with access to reproductive health care.

        Anyone convicted of breaking the law could face up to $10,000 in fines and $5,000 in damages.

        The case resulted from an Operation Rescue protest in which four people were arrested at the Women's Medical Center in Dayton. Protests also occurred at the Cincinnati Clinic and the Dayton Clinic.


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