“I was shocked and appalled that someone would place something like that up at this particular institution,” seminary student Maurice Stinnett told CBS 2′s Derricke Dennis.
“There was a lot of devastation for me, psychological damage, injury, because I saw this as social bullying,” student Shirley Thomas said.
Student leaders at the seminary, which neighbors Princeton University but is not directly affiliated, said the flyers first appeared on campus last November then reappeared in February for Black History Month.
The flyers originate from various sources, pointing out the number of African American deaths by abortion.
Citing abortion as some sort of attempt at eugenics has been a long favored tactic of the anti-abortion activists. But an escalation of the number of groups that have been pushing the meme has been increasing over the last few years. Now, even more sadly, it looks like the rhetoric of the campaigns themselves are getting more intense as well.
Interestingly enough, although the fliers are reported to come from “various sources,” there does not appear to be a group actually claiming them. A google search for the phrase “in the new klan lynching is for amateurs” brings up no organizations.
On Wednesday, Colorado District Court Judge Gilbert Martinez ruled that Robert Lewis Dear Jr., the admitted Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooter, will not immediately stand trial for the November 27, 2015 siege that killed three people. Dear faces 179 counts, including murder and attempted murder, from the attack.
Martinez’s ruling, which came after two competency exams and hours of contested courtroom testimony, was that Dear was not legally competent to stand trial. Dear spoke out during the court proceedings against him again and again, despite court warning. Dear also has some fringe political beliefs that could fairly be described as delusional—he believes the FBI has been tracking him, that President Obama is the Antichrist, and that the federal government has been systematically targeting Christians since the 1993 siege on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas.
Based on the evidence disclosed so far, however, it is hard not to second-guess Martinez’s ruling here. Being behaviorally unpredictable or existing on the political fringe is not the same thing as being legally incompetent to stand trial. It’s dangerous for the court to decide otherwise.
Under Colorado law, a defendant is considered “incompetent to proceed” if, as the result of a mental or developmental disability, they do not have the sufficient present ability to consult with their lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding in order to assist in the defense, or if they do not have a “rational and factual understanding of the criminal proceedings.”
Like This Story?
Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.
I’ve put the emphasis on a couple of key points, because they are important for understanding the difference between whatever psychiatric diagnosis Dear got and the legal standard for whether or not he is competent to stand trial.
First: Sufficient present ability. That means does Dear, at this moment in time, have the ability to talk to his lawyer? Not “does he want to,” but “can he?”
Second: With a reasonable degree of rational understanding. Now there’s some legalese for you. But broadly speaking, it means: Can Dear reasonably and rationally understand the proceedings against him? For example, does he understand his charges? Can he participate in the court hearings as his case proceeds? Again, not “does he want to,” but “can he?”
And here’s what we know so far from court testimony and the few documents Martinez has allowed to be unsealed: Dear crafted a homemade bulletproof vest prior to November 27, which he said he wore on him when he took siege at the clinic. We also know through court testimony and documents that prior to the siege, Dear collected propane tanks and ammunition, which he brought and set up around the clinic first. He said he shot at those tanks. He missed. But he told investigators his goal was to create as much carnage as possible.
We even know that Dear stopped at a crisis pregnancy center about a mile down the road to confirm whether or not it was the Planned Parenthood clinic in question.
We know a lot more about what happened once Dear surrendered to law enforcement, how he cooperated with investigators up until his defense team was appointed, who then suggested an insanity defense. We know Dear didn’t want to plead insanity and instead wants to argue the siege was justified—that, as with Paul Hill, Michael Bray, and Scott Roeder, violence is necessary in the name of preventing what he sees as the “greater evil” of legal abortion.
Dear himself has stated both to the media and the court that he knew exactly what he was doing on November 27 before he was arrested in that Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood. He surrendered. He wants a trial.
He may never get one, though. All the evidence of Dear’s planning, of his specific targeting of Planned Parenthood, of Dear’s insistence he have a platform in the form of a criminal trial—by ruling Dear incompetent to stand trial because of his “political delusions,” Judge Martinez overlooks Dear’s very real but sincerely held religious belief that abortion is a moral wrong that has no legal justification.
The good news is that Wednesday’s decision is temporary. Competency, as the law defines it, is a fluid state. Which means a defendant like Dear can come in and out of legal competency, even if he’s never fully “cured” of the diagnosis that got him declared incompetent in the first place.
The immediate effect of Martinez’s ruling is to send Dear to the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo. That’s where Dear will be treated for what forensic psychologists diagnosed as his delusional disorder. Under Colorado law, “mental disability,” like that delusional disorder, means a “substantial disorder of thought, mood, perception, or cognitive ability that results in marked functional disability,” which would significantly interfere with Dear’s ability to adapt to society.
In other words, the question is whether a defendant like Dear can keep himself integrated to a reasonable degree in society. The law states that Dear can be held no longer than his possible sentence—in his case, life in prison or possibly the death penalty—in efforts to rehabilitate him to legal competency. If the state psychologists and the court decide Dear will never become legally competent, they could begin the process of civilly committing Dear to a mental health facility for the rest of his life. They could also release him on bond with conditions that he must meet in order to remain out of state custody, such as remaining on medications or regularly meeting with psychiatrists.
Dear’s diagnosis centers on what the psychologists describe as Dear’s conspiratorial beliefs the federal government is targeting Christians and that the FBI has been watching him for decades. I’m curious as to how those beliefs are going to be “rehabilitated,” given that right-wing politicians and personalities use rhetoric similar, if not identical, to Dear’s. Even one of the psychologists herself admitted this fact during court testimony.
Really troubling, though, was the conclusion that Dear’s beliefs on abortion, the target of whatever fringe political beliefs he may espouse, do not fall into that delusional diagnosis. Those, psychologists testified during the first day of Dear’s competency hearing, are simply Dear’s deeply and sincerely held religious beliefs as to the moral wrong of abortion.
Let me be clear. I am very uncomfortable with the government making conclusions as to which political beliefs are delusional and which are not. But I ameven more uncomfortable with this idea that obstruction against reproductive health care can be explained away, and thus legally insulated, by religious beliefs. Political fringe beliefs, apparently, are enough to warrant a diagnosis of a disorder; anti-choice rhetoric, according to these courts, is a religious belief irrelevant to the matter at hand.
Should Dear ever be found legally competent, that would effectively continue the criminal case against him, months, maybe years later. The soonest prosecutors can request Dear be reevaluated to be declared competent to stand trial is three months from Wednesday’s ruling. But I’m guessing it’s going to take more time than those three months. Call it a hunch.
In the meantime, it’s good to remember that as we saw with Angel Dillard’s case last week in Wichita, Kansas, a trial is no guarantee of any justice or vindication of abortion rights. And like Wichita, Colorado Springs has a deeply ingrained anti-choice movement. Who’s to say a jury wouldn’t excuse Dear’s actions based on those religious beliefs, in much the same way one did in Dillard’s case?
Dear’s case raises troubling questions, then, for reproductive rights advocates: Do we really want him to stand trial? What about the risk of a jury embracing the idea that targeted violence against abortion providers and their patients just comes with the territory for someone who believes in delivering full-spectrum health care, including reproductive services?
What about the fact that anti-choice violence is so normalized in our culture that the courts, in two different cases in as many weeks, will go out of their way to excuse it? Given the increasingly violent anti-choice rhetoric and political climate, do we really have any choice but to fight back in every venue we can, including the courts?
I don’t have a good answer to any of those questions.
I know that these cases, when read together, potentially send some terrifying cues to the radical anti-abortion movement. Dear is now another “lone wolf” delusional person who was arrested for just happening to act out his violent delusions at a Planned Parenthood. Kind of like that young man in Wichita who walked into an abortion clinic to apply for a job. With a homemade bomb in his backpack. Dillard is just another fire-and-brimstone prison minister acting on her sincere religious beliefs that God called her to write a letter to Dr. Mila Means warning her about future car bombs. Not to incite any violence towards Means. Just to save her.
I had a law professor try to explain to me once that the law is often slow to catch up with popular opinion. Just look, for example, at marriage equality: Large swathes of the country had already accepted that discriminating against same-sex couples is wrong before the Supreme Court got around to agreeing with them.
So, then, what does that say right now about anti-abortion violence, if the courts in these cases too are slow to catch up with popular opinion? I think it means that we’ve got a long ways to go before abortion providers and patients can feel like their interests are being heard by the justice system. At all.
Providers throughout the country have told Rewire that a document produced by Life Dynamics has been used to deceive and intimidate both patients and providers by threatening them with legal action should they go through with obtaining or providing an abortion.
Last February, AJ, a single mother in Mississippi, found herself at the back of an abortion clinic in Memphis, Tennessee, where two police officers threatened to charge her with fetal homicide.
It was yet another unexpected turn in a week of surprising events for AJ, whose name we have agreed to conceal for the sake of her family’s privacy.
Days earlier, AJ had received the kind of news that most parents of teenagers hope never to hear. Her 17-year-old daughter, a student at Lake Cormorant High School, texted her to say she thought she was pregnant.
Mother and daughter discussed the realities of raising a baby as a single teen in a low-income household. Initially, AJ’s daughter said that she wanted to have an abortion, but she cried when they went to the clinic, so AJ took her home. After more conversations, the daughter again decided to have an abortion, and AJ scheduled an appointment at CHOICES, a clinic in Memphis, half-an-hour’s drive across the border from their home in Mississippi.
Like This Story?
Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.
As they sat in the clinic waiting room, her daughter was distracted, texting on her phone with a woman in Hernando, Mississippi, whom AJ did not know. The woman had—to AJ’s consternation—been trying to persuade AJ’s daughter not to have an abortion. Her messages kept flashing up on her daughter’s phone. It’s wrong to have an abortion. God is not going to forgive you for this.
“Her mind was solely made up with the procedure that the clinic was going to do,” AJ recalled, “but when she had someone up in her ear telling her, don’t do this—I think the lady did really get in her head.”
Now AJ found herself being stared down by two police, with nervous clinic staff telling her they were unable to provide her daughter’s abortion at that time.
“The police explained that someone had called them saying that my daughter was there unwilling to have the procedure done,” AJ recalled in an interview with Rewire. “So when the police talked to me, they said that if I had forced her to do it they were going to bring fetal homicide charges against me. So we left, and came home.”
AJ was shaken by the encounter, and it would take several weeks and significant legal wrangling before she could make sense of how events had spiraled from what should have been a simple medical appointment into a serious brush with the law.
With assistance from her lawyer, over the course of the next few days, AJ would learn that in addition to the anonymous phone calls that had been made to the clinic while she and her daughter waited for her procedure, people unknown to AJ had faxed her daughter’s personal information—her name, medical information, and even her social security number—to countless numbers of doctors, police, and other strangers in at least two states, without AJ’s knowledge or consent. She would discover that her daughter had been picked up from school and driven across the state border by a person that AJ did not know. And before the saga was resolved, AJ would even find out that an attorney she’d never heard of had purported to represent her daughter, and had sent threatening letters to the abortion clinic, directly interfering with her daughter’s medical treatment.
A Rewire investigation has found that at the center of the drama that unfolded in AJ’s life was a document produced by Life Dynamics, the prominent anti-choice group that is based in Denton, Texas, which receives the majority of its funding from the fracking billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks. The Wilks brothers are also the main backers of Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign.
The document is a bogus “notice” that tricks women into believing they have signed away their legal rights to receive an abortion. Providers throughout the country have told Rewire that this document has been used for years to deceive and intimidate both patients and providers by threatening them with legal action should they go through with obtaining or providing an abortion.
In AJ’s case, the tactic did not work. But her story is an illustration of the intrusive and dishonest techniques used by anti-choice activists to deprive women of their constitutional rights. Abortion providers familiar with the document worry that, for each of the women who ultimately receive the care they desire, countless more may be too intimidated to try.
School Employees Introduce Student to Anti-Choice Activist
The involvement of anti-choice activists in AJ’s daughter’s life began with an innocent conversation between the daughter and a teacher at her school in early February 2015. Rewire was not able to speak directly with the daughter, but confirmed many of the details of AJ’s account with documentation provided by AJ’s attorney, Latrice Westbrooks. Rebecca Terrell, the executive director at CHOICES in Tennessee, also confirmed that the incident involving the police occurred in February last year.
When the daughter confided to her teacher that she was pregnant, the teacher informed another school staff member, and that staffer then contacted a third woman—a stranger to AJ’s daughter, and not a member of school staff—who arranged to meet the girl after school. To this day, AJ has been unable to learn this woman’s identity.
On February 19, the unknown woman drove AJ’s daughter—a minor—across state lines to Millington, Tennessee, where they visited a clinic called Confidential Care for Women, which is a crisis pregnancy center.
Crisis pregnancy centers have a long track record of providing false information to women. Their names and marketing materials are designed to trick the public into thinking that these centers provide abortion when, in reality, they are run by anti-choice groups who deliberately mislead women, and stall for time, in the hopes of diverting them from accessing abortion care. These centers have been the focus of numerous investigations by congressional committees, cities, andindependent investigators who have all caught them lying to women about the risks of abortion procedures, as well as misleading them on the types of services crisis pregnancy centers actually provide.
While AJ’s daughter was at Confidential Care for Women, staff performed an ultrasound and had her sign a document titled, “Patient Notice of Intent.”
As AJ would eventually discover, it was that document that created astonishing difficulties in attempting to secure her daughter’s medical care.
The notice is a boilerplate document drafted in small-print, ersatz legalese.
I have decided to continue my pregnancy to term. However, I am being subjected to coercion by others that is meant to compel me to terminate my pregnancy against my will.
The document then says that if the person who signed it is “brought” to a health-care facility to obtain an abortion, their presence would be a result of “threats, intimidation, force or threats of force.” It also threatens civil and criminal action against “all participating members of the healthcare facility’s medical staff and non-medical support staff” for a laundry list of 15 offenses, including wrongful death, sexual assault, child abuse, and fetal homicide.
The form lists Sheila Williams as the “contact person at the pregnancy center.” In a telephone interview with Rewire, Williams, who said she is the “client services person” at Confidential Care for Women, confirmed that her center continues to have patients sign these notices of intent, but declined to say why, other than that they are “self-explanatory.” Williams repeatedly sought to learn the identity of the patient who was the subject of our call; we declined her requests.
Crucially, the document claims “it is probable that a person or persons whose objective is to prevent me from either withholding or withdrawing my consent for an abortion will accompany me to this facility.”
That last claim appears to be what prompted police to threaten AJ with charges of fetal homicide if her daughter obtained an abortion.
“They said they would bring legal actions against me,” AJ told Rewire. “They were saying there’s nothing I can do because if she’s a teenager and she doesn’t want to have an abortion, it’s wrong for me to force her to have it. And I wasn’t forcing her, I was just letting her know what it’s really going to be like to have a baby.”
Deceptive Form Produced by Group Tied to Fracking Billionaires
The form is copyrighted to Life Dynamics, a Texas-based group dedicated to ending legalized abortion in the United States. Life Dynamics is known for its ongoing anti-choice activities. Over the years, the organization has sent DVDs to thousands of lawyers across the country, urging them to sue abortion providers. And through its “Spies for Life” program, it seeks to enlist the public as spies on abortion clinics, and unsubtly encourages activists to trawl through abortion providers’ trash.
According to the most recent available public tax filings, between 2011and2013, Life Dynamics received the majority of its funding from Dan and Farris Wilks—the Texas fracking billionaires—via the Thirteen Foundation, one of the vehicles they use to make charitable contributions. While the brothers have scattered their wealth throughout the fundamentalist Christian world, the other major current beneficiary of their largesse is the presidential campaign of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
A spokesperson for Life Dynamics declined to answer our questions for this story.
Lawyers told Rewire that the type of document signed by AJ’s daughter would not have any legal force, especially when signed by a minor.
But that hasn’t stopped anti-choice groups from using the documents, according to multiple providers from different regions of the country, who said they are familiar with these phony notices.
Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, told Rewire that providers all across the country have contacted her group about these forms. She ticked off states in which clinics had shared them with her recently: Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, and Maryland to name a few. Terrell from CHOICES in Memphis told Rewire that her clinic receives multiple such forms every year, and Lori Williams, clinic director at Little Rock Family Planning Services in Arkansas, said her clinic also regularly receives these forms.
The forms are frequently given to minors, who later report that they were coerced into signing them by people such as their boyfriend’s parents, who oppose abortion for their own religious or political reasons.
“It’s just another tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion—tricking women into thinking they have signed this and discouraging them from going through with their initial decision and inclination,” Saporta said.
Saporta and multiple providers told Rewire that the tactic frequently fails, as long as a girl or woman makes it to a clinic. Staff are well trained when it comes to the informed consent process, and support their patients to make their own decisions, whether or not that results in an abortion. In this particular case, CHOICES faced the unusual situation that police were present while a patient was seeking care, and according to Terrell, there was confusion as to who had called the police.
What worries providers are the girls and women who never come to the clinic, believing they have signed their rights away.
“The ones who do come and say that they do want to obtain an abortion, the clinics do their own informed consent process and take the time to ensure that the woman is not being in any way coerced,” Saporta said. “You don’t know about how many women don’t come to the clinic to attempt to obtain care.”
Single Mom Faces More Legal Threats From Anti-Choice Activists
After returning home from that visit to the clinic, AJ and her daughter spent the next few days discussing her daughter’s options. At one point, her daughter appeared to vacillate, saying she might want to continue her pregnancy. AJ talked with her about what that would entail—what it would mean for her daughter’s social life, for her studies, and for her future. She also explained the financial reality of having a baby: AJ was already struggling to support herself and her daughter by working 64 hours per week between two jobs as a card dealer at local casinos.
Ultimately, the 17-year-old decided that she wanted to terminate her pregnancy, and AJ made another appointment at CHOICES, for February 21, 2015.
But when they arrived, CHOICES staff again told AJ they could not perform the abortion. Minutes before, the clinic had received a threatening legal notice from an attorney in Tupelo, Mississippi, named Stephen M. Crampton, who claimed to be representing AJ’s daughter.
“Be advised that this office represents [REDACTED], age 17,” the fax read. “Her mother is transporting her to your clinic as I write.” Crampton purported to put the clinic on “legal notice that any procedure you administer would be against [REDACTED’s] wishes and her constitutional right to choose, and you will face legal consequences if you choose to ignore her stated choice.” (Emphasis in original.)
Crampton named Cathy Waterbury as the employee at Confidential Care who had faxed through the notice of intent to CHOICES. Waterbury has since left Confidential Care, according to Williams, but she is listed in federal tax filings as the chief officer of a Tennessee nonprofit, Heart to Heart, which describes its mission as “abortion alternatives.” Heart to Heart is based in Millington, Tennessee—the same town listed on the notice as Confidential Care’s address. The documents also list the same phone number for both Confidential Care and Heart to Heart. We attempted to contact Waterbury through publicly listed phone numbers, but were unable to reach her.
AJ had never heard of Williams, Crampton, or Waterbury. This brought to five the total of unknown adults who had interfered with AJ’s daughter’s health decisions without AJ’s knowledge, in addition to the two school staffers. AJ would later learn that Crampton had been in contact with her daughter while she was wrestling with her decision about whether to continue her pregnancy.
The involvement of an unknown attorney in her child’s health decisions would be troubling enough, but Crampton is not just any neutral lawyer, seeking to do his client’s bidding. Based on his online profiles, Crampton is in fact special counsel to the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based nonprofit law firm that represents anti-choice extremists, including David Daleiden, the activist who has recently been indicted by a Texas grand jury for his role in creating the deceptive attack videos against Planned Parenthood last summer. Neither Crampton nor the Thomas More Society responded to our requests for comment.
For all the strangers that AJ could identify who had been given sensitive information about her daughter’s health, the document that Confidential Care had AJ’s daughter sign indicated that—contrary to what their name would suggest— they could have disseminated it to an almost infinite number of third parties.
In addition to the legal threats it contained, the notice of intent also included a section that permitted Confidential Care to “immediately forward copies of this document to the following”:
Every abortion clinic or other abortion provider to which I might be taken;
Every law enforcement entity (police department, sheriff’s department, district attorney’s office, etc.) with jurisdiction where I might reside and those with jurisdiction where the abortion might be performed; and
My legal counsel and/or the legal counsel representing the Pregnancy Center.
AJ learned that Confidential Care had already faxed a copy of the notice to CHOICES, apparently on the same day that her daughter had visited Confidential Care. AJ does not know who else received a copy.
That was particularly worrisome because the document did not just inform all recipients of AJ’s daughter’s pregnancy, but it also contained the girl’s full name, her full address, and even her date of birth and her social security number.
Williams, of Confidential Care, was unapologetic about distributing this private information about a minor to third parties. “I am fully aware of what we sent out,” she told Rewire.
When pressed on the fact that this case involved a minor—who was not legally competent to sign such a document—Williams pointed to language in the document that asserts that the minor gives permission to the pregnancy center to “provide this document to every city, county or state social service agency responsible for the protection of underage children with jurisdiction where I reside and those with jurisdiction where the abortion might be performed.”
Williams then asked again for the patient’s name, saying, “I have concerns for patient confidentiality.”
Williams declined to answer questions about whether she and her center are bound by federal patient privacy laws. She said that someone else from her organization would answer those questions, but we never heard back from any other Confidential Care representative.
Abortion providers say that when they receive these notices, they almost always contain this level of personal information—a practice that disturbs Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation.
“It’s particularly unconscionable that they indiscriminately send out patient information,” she said. “If she had concerns about patient confidentiality then she would not be having the patient sign the form to begin with and sending it all over town in violation of the patient’s confidentiality.”
At this point, AJ decided she needed a lawyer. She contacted Latrice Westbrooks, who knew she had to act fast because AJ’s daughter’s pregnancy was approaching the end of the first trimester, and mother and daughter were concerned that it might soon become more difficult for her daughter to obtain an abortion at a local clinic.
Despite multiple phone calls, Crampton never replied to Westbrooks. Ultimately, she had to draw up legal paperwork to prove to the clinic that Crampton was not AJ’s daughter’s legal representative, and that the document the girl had signed was not legally binding. As soon as the clinic was satisfied that it was legally able to do so, staff provided AJ’s daughter with her abortion.
Westbrooks says the clinic’s cautious response was understandable, given the threats they had received and the general atmosphere of intimidation currently surrounding abortion care, especially in the South. However, she says that the tactics used by the various anti-choice activists are alarming.
“My main concern here is that a minor was taken advantage of, and that school officials took the decision out of the hands of the parent and guardian and took it upon themselves to make a health-care decision on their behalf,” Westbrooks told Rewire. “It’s important for people to know that they have a choice to change their mind—whether it’s to keep their child or terminate their pregnancy—and not to let someone force them into making any kind of health-care decision.”
Westbrooks said that her client does not currently plan to take legal action against the school; neither the school nor the district replied to Rewire’s requests for comment.
While AJ’s daughter eventually obtained the care she wanted, AJ says the situation took a toll on her. Throughout the course of less than a month, AJ found herself threatened by police, and ensnared in a web of anonymous strangers who sought to impose their own ideological views on her daughter’s life.
“I’m truly a strong person,” she told Rewire, “but that really got the best of me.”