By Bridget Hall, Staff Writer, Ocala Star-Banner
ORLANDO — The lawyer who made history in the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade case legalizing abortion has returned to reproductive law and wants to make history again in several Florida abortion cases.
Roy Lucas, the architect of the “right to privacy” legal argument for abortion, now says overzealous protesters are violating the privacy of patients, abortion doctors and their staff.
“The days of peaceful protesting are gone,” said Lucas, attorney for Dr. James Pendergraft who owns the Ocala Women’s Center. “The protesting has stepped up to the level of harassment under the guise of the First Amendment. Really this is more like domestic stalking.”
And that is how Lucas says the courts should treat the anti-abortion protesters. In the lawsuit he filed last December and the temporary injunction he filed Tuesday, he asked the courts to keep protesters from coming within 75 feet of the Ocala clinic or bringing weapons or surveillance equipment within 1,500 feet of the clinic.
He also asked that protesters be banned from saying words like “abortuary” and “death” to patients, and that anti-abortion signs contain only words, not pictures of fetuses. He wants those signs to carry the following disclaimer: “Medical abortion is authorized by Florida law and the United States Constitution and has been sanctioned as safe by the American Medical Association.”
In a separate lawsuit, Lucas has asked that Internet providers be held liable for allowing protesters access to databases of motor vehicle departments, because he said abortion foes have used those databases to track down patients going to an abortion clinic he represents in Melbourne.
Matt Staver, attorney for Rev. Ed Martin, who leads the anti-abortion protesters outside Pendergraft’s clinic, said Lucas’ strategies are at best unorthodox and at worst unethical.
“He should have some support and basis for these allegations,” Staver said. “He has legal claims that don’t make sense, that no court in the country will ever accept, yet he’s made them and made them unashamedly.”
But Lucas said even if the courts are not ready for such strict limitations on protesters, it is time to lay the legal foundation.
“These are things that we might not get for another five years, but it will help other people down the line,” he said. “Many things that were considered radical 20 years ago are commonplace today.”
Lucas, 57, has championed abortion rights since penning an article for the June 1968 issue of the North Carolina Law Review in which he laid out the blueprint for legalizing abortion. Four years later, when Roe v. Wade came before the Supreme Court, Lucas filed the main brief.
Lucas continued practicing law until 1985, when he took an 11-year hiatus to visit 200 of the country’s natural parks and paint landscape scenes. After surviving a two-year bout with non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Lucas moved to Florida and returned to reproductive law.
“If you know the history from 1967 to 1971, Roy Lucas has done more than any lawyer in American history to make abortion rights available, but the number of people who know that could fit in a good-sized classroom,” said David Garrow, Emory University professor on reproductive law. “It’s not surprising that there would remain a hunger or an appetite.”
Lucas is representing Pendergraft in his suit against the Ocala Police Department, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and a dozen protesters. The suit, filed last December, asks that protesters be kept at bay and that law enforcement provide an off-duty officer for security at the clinic.
Lucas also represents the Aware Woman Center for Choice in Melbourne. That clinic filed suit in January against 17 protesters and America Online, CompuServe and TML Information Services.
Lucas said protesters have copied down visitors’ license plate numbers and used the Internet providers to obtain those visitors’ names and addresses from TML’s database of motor vehicle information.
Christopher Sapp, the attorney representing the lead protester at Aware Woman, Meredith Raney, did not return several calls for comment.
Lucas has another lawsuit for Pendergraft in the works, a class action suit against Neal Horsley, the Georgia creator of the “Nuremberg Files” website that listed some 200 abortion doctors and asked visitors to send photos, videotapes, and any personal information about the doctors.
Horsley wanted the information, the site said, “in anticipation that one day we may be able to hold (abortion doctors) on trial for crimes against humanity.”
The site has been inaccessible since early February, when an Oregon jury ordered a dozen defendants associated with the site — but not Horsley — to pay Planned Parenthood and other plaintiffs more than $100 million in damages.
The jury found that the site amounted to a death threat against abortion doctors, their associates and families. The defendants plan to appeal.
Suing a web site, seeking injunctions against the utterance of certain words and requiring disclaimers on protesters’ signs may test the First Amendment, but Pendergraft secured Lucas because he wanted an attorney who would push the envelope.
“We have to be innovative with the abortion situation because the anti-establishment has become very innovative,” Pendergraft said. “They couldn’t win in the courts, so they went to the legislature. When they fail there, they’ll go onto something else. We always have to be on our toes.”
Lucas said even though his approach would limit protester’s activities, he is not out to curb free speech. He said his first case before the Supreme Court was a First Amendment case.
“I’ve always done a lot of that work, but when it gets to the point that they’re selling roadmaps to stalkers that have killed a lot of doctors, that’s stepping over the bounds.”