Roundups Law and Policy

Legal Wrap: EC’s Big Win, Plus More on Anti-Choice Terrorist Angel Dillard

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Science trumps ideology in the emergency contraception decision. Meanwhile, the depths of the anti-choice domestic terror network in Kansas become clearer.

Legal Wrap is a round-up of key legal and reproductive justice news.

Late last week U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman released a scathing, detailed opinion ordering the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make emergency contraction available over-the-counter and without a prescription to women of all ages. It was a huge victory for reproductive health advocates and one that was a long time in the making. According to the order, emergency contraception (EC) must be available over-the-counter within 30 days. Prior to the ruling, only women age 17 and older could get EC without a prescription. The ruling cites extensively the scientific support for making EC widely available. However, that won’t end the debate for conservatives who oppose EC. After all, they’ve filed over 50 lawsuits challenging contraception availability in health insurance plans.

It’s rare a legal opinion produces as many zingers as the EC decision. Thankfully, Rewire Director of Research and Investigations, Sharona Coutts, put together this great list of the 11 best lines from the opinion. While a fun read, it also drives home the truly political nature of the original decision to restrict EC availability.

Angel Dillard, a well-known anti-choice terrorist with ties to Scott Roeder, the man who murdered Dr. George Tiller, is fighting to keep communications she had with Roeder and another inmate, Robert Campbell, secret. Dillard is currently under investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for threatening letters she sent to Dr. Mila Means, an abortion provider who stepped in to keep access to safe abortion care available after Tiller’s murder. What is Dillard trying to keep out of the DOJ investigation? As Rewire Editor in Chef Jodi Jacobson reports, she’s trying to hide conversations in which Dillard asked Campbell to firebomb Dr. Means’ house.

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The National Women’s Law Center has filed a complaint on behalf of a pregnant hospital worker who was forced to take unpaid leave because her employer refused to accommodate her pregnancy. I interviewed the plaintiff and her attorney, who discussed how low-income workers are especially vulnerable to unlawful pregnancy discrimination.

Rewire Online Campaigns Director Natasha Chart has this terrific piece on the disturbing trend of prosecuting parents for “theft of services” for enrolling their children in different school districts than the ones in which they live. Not surprisingly, those prosecutions disproportionately affect people of color.

An Alabama trooper who pleaded guilty to coercing a woman to perform sex acts on him in order to avoid a shoplifting charge is asking the federal judge in charge of sentencing him to strike the word “rape” from the order and replace it with “sex act.” According to reports, he’s worried being labeled a rapist “will negatively affect his security ratings for purpose of designation with the Bureau of Prisons and carries negative connotations that will adversely affect him in many respects.” Perhaps the trooper should have used his decades of experience in law enforcement to think that one through before he engaged in such an egregious abuse of power.

News Violence

Cross-Examination Reveals More Contradictions in Angel Dillard’s Defense

Michelle D. Anderson

The proceedings in Wichita are part of an ongoing case that began in 2011 after the DOJ filed a civil lawsuit against Dillard for sending an intimidating letter to a local physician, Dr. Mila Means.

A cross-examination by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in U.S. District Court on Thursday highlighted inconsistencies among testimony, a court deposition, and arguments from anti-abortion activist Angel Dillard and her defense team.

The proceedings in Wichita were part of a case that began in 2011 after the DOJ filed a civil lawsuit against Dillard for sending an threatening letter to a local physician, Dr. Mila Means.

Dillard told Means in that letter that she might find an explosive under her car and that members of the anti-abortion movement would do everything they could to stop her from providing abortion care.

At the time, Means had been training to become an abortion provider. She would have been the first doctor to offer the abortion care in Wichita after Dillard’s associate, Scott Roeder, murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in 2009.

The court expected a jury verdict following closing statements on Thursday, but members the eight-person jury said they needed more time to deliberate. Dillard will pay about $20,000 in total if the jury rules in the DOJ’s favor.

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The government’s lawsuit is centered on the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, a federal law passed in 1994 to prevent threats against abortion providers or interference with access to abortion clinics. Dillard’s defense has argued that the letter is protected under the First Amendment.

In the cross-examination, which began late Wednesday and was led by attorney and DOJ Special Litigation Section Deputy Chief Julie Abbate, Dillard revealed to jurors that she first visited Roeder independently and not as part of a church ministry, as her defense implied earlier this week.

Donald McKinney, Dillard’s former defense attorney, had relied on the activist’s “ministerial” or “priest-penitent” privileges to limit information about her communications with Roeder from becoming public in 2013. Her defense took similar actions in court this week.

Dillard provided contradictory information about an oft-quoted 2009 interview she had with Associated Press reporter Roxana Hegeman. Dillard said in that interview that Roeder, “with one move,” had accomplished “what we had not been able to do.”

“So he followed his convictions and I admire that,” Dillard said.

Although Dillard said Thursday that the quotation was taken out of context, she said in her sworn out-of-court testimony that she believed Hegeman quoted her accurately.

Dillard in the cross-examination acknowledged that one could receive a letter from someone who provides their name and address and does not explicitly state, “I will harm you,” and still feel threatened.

The acknowledgement emerged days after Dillard’s legal defense team repeatedly noted that Dillard provided her name and address on the letter to Means to argue the absence of a “true threat.”

Abbate questioned Dillard about a protective court order she filed after receiving a disconcerting letter from a Kansan inmate. In stating her reasons for the order, Dillard reportedly told authorities issuing the protective order that her family was afraid because they didn’t know what the sender looked like.

Dillard on Thursday acknowledged that the sender made references to her sister’s home and other personal information that frightened her.

Abbate did not name the inmate or provide further details to jurors, but in 2013, several news outlets, including the Associated Press and the Wichita Eagle, acknowledged a conflict between Dillard and the letter writer, Robert Campbell.

Campbell, who had been lodged in Sedgwick County Jail at the time, reportedly tried to blackmail Dillard by telling authorities she asked him to firebomb Means’ house in 2012. He told authorities he had backed out of the plot and feared Dillard would act out of revenge.

Dillard said Thursday that she barely remembered the incident, when first questioned about the letter and the court order she filed.

“That was quite a few years ago,” Dillard said.

Dillard’s husband, who is a local emergency room physician, also took the stand on Thursday. Dr. Robert Dillard told his wife’s defense attorney, Theresa Sidebotham, that he did not participate in the anti-abortion movement.

Dillard’s defense team on Thursday made another attempt to have Judge J. Thomas Marten close the case after he dismissed the jury for a break, but Marten declined.

The jury will reconvene Friday morning.

Analysis Law and Policy

Normalizing Anti-Abortion Violence at the Heart of Angel Dillard Defense

Jessica Mason Pieklo

On trial for threatening Dr. Mila Means, Angel Dillard insisted she was another victim in the Obama administration's war on religious liberties and political debate.

Attorneys from the Department of Justice finished presenting their evidence to a jury Wednesday that a 2011 letter sent by anti-abortion activist Angel Dillard to Dr. Mila Means—which suggested that should Means begin performing abortions in Wichita, she’d be checking for bombs every day under her car—constituted a “true threat” to Means’ safety. After that, Dillard’s defense team had one job: Suddenly, immediately humanize their client.

But how do attorneys humanize a woman accused of threatening abortion providers, who testified that Dr. George Tiller’s murderer, Scott Roeder, is a friend of hers, and who stated specifically that she believes abortion, no matter the context, is always wrong?

You play her up as simple housewife and hope a jury of eight Wichitans believes Dillard’s story: that an over-aggressive federal government  is stifling speech and political debate with which it disagrees.

Will it work? It’s hard to tell at this moment. As a witness, Dillard comes across as a typical small-Midwestern-town farmer—one who would rather tend to her flock of chickens and peacocks than debate abortion politics. And that was undoubtedly on purpose. Theresa Sidebotham, a Colorado Springs-based religious liberties attorney and part of Dillard’s defense team, questioned Dillard about her son with cerebral palsy, whom Dillard cared for until his death in 2001. She asked Dillard to speak about the restoration of her farm property, her Christian songwriting, her prison ministry. Dillard teared up when describing singing songs of forgiveness to women who had been in domestic violence situations prior to prison and spoke softly, specifically, and directly to Sidebotham.

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When the topic of abortion politics finally came up—which was a given, since Dillard faces civil charges for violating the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act because of that 2011 letter to Means—both Sidebotham and Dillard did everything they could to distance Dillard’s letter from the history and pattern of anti-choice violence rooted in her hometown of Wichita.

Dillard testified that she believes abortion is wrong in every context because it is a violation of “God’s law.” She also testified that while she would never condone an act of violence like the one her “friend” Roeder committed in murdering Wichita’s only abortion provider, she admired Roeder because he “was willing to give up his life” by going to prison for the larger cause of ending legal abortion. Dillard also admitted that her community supported Roeder. “Everyone I knew was thrilled we no longer had killing going on in Wichita,” Dillard said, without a hint of irony.

And as to whether or not Dillard ever intended to threaten Means by sending the letter promising thousands of people would be looking into Means’ background and potentially placing explosives under Means’ car, Dillard brushed the suggestion off.

“I know it sounded harsh, but we we’re talking about life and death,” testified Dillard. “I stood on the Bible and the First Amendment, but I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Translation: Dillard believes that the government is infringing on her religious freedom, and her right to free speech and religion, by punishing her for sending the letter to Means.

The Department of Justice, however, was having none of this image of Dillard as a Kansas homemaker being bullied by the Obama administration. Julie Abbate, a DOJ deputy chief, led the government’s cross-examination of Dillard. After moving the podium so that she was looking Dillard directly in the eyes for the entirety of her cross-examination, Abbate simply opened with, “Good afternoon, Mrs. Dillard. It’s been a while.”

From there, the niceties ended. Abbate meticulously went through Dillard’s testimony, erasing much of the image Sidebotham spent her time creating. Abbate questioned Dillard on her presence at Roeder’s trial, where she testified she first met and befriended Michael Bray, another anti-choice terrorist. She pressed Dillard on her purported prison ministry—which, Dillard admitted, was non-existent until Roeder’s conviction; for the first year of its existence, it “ministered” exclusively to Roeder. Dillard had earlier testified she was not really all that involved in the local anti-choice movement, but Abbate got Dillard to concede she would go to local abortion clinics and stand outside and pray, sometimes holding signs, and even participated in what she described as a “parade” with other activists where they sang and prayed outside a Wichita clinic.

All these activities, according to court testimony, took place prior to Dillard sending the letter to Means.

The trial proceedings finished for the day before Abbate got to conclude her cross-examination of Dillard. She will pick up with that first thing Thursday morning, and it will likely be as charged as Wednesday morning’s testimony. It is also likely the case will go to the jury then, which will begin deliberating on a verdict. Because this is a civil prosecution under FACE and not a criminal one, Dillard faces no jail time should the jury find her letter was a threat to Means and not protected free speech. Instead, she faces approximately $20,000 in damages as consequence.

“I didn’t have any plans for violence,” Dillard testified. “God lets us have the consequences of our actions as a judgment, but it doesn’t have anything to do with me.”

If the jury starts to deliberate the case on Thursday, it could return a verdict as soon as the end of the week.