Special Report: Safety or Censorship

During a recent session at the Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Conference in New York City speaker Jennifer Donahue, assistant director of development at the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), contributed a Freudian slip by referring to a segment of pro-life advocates as "enemies."

She quickly softened her choice of words, but it became evident that no amount of hugs and puppies would ease the friction between nonprofit NARAL and its chief Internet adversary Neal Horsley.

Horsley is the publisher of The Christian Gallery (www.christiangallery.com), a news service with a decided religious slant. What has most ignited the fury of NARAL has been a sub-site titled The Nuremburg Files — a pro-life Web page that focuses on the abortion debate. Within these cyber pages are photos of women, doctors and other workers and license plate numbers of cars outside clinics around the country. NARAL contends that Horsley is using this method to target women who go to reproductive health clinics.

Donahue believes that the site is invading women’s privacy by using inflammatory language that NARAL perceives as threatening and hostile. The organization has not officially said that Horsley’s activity is illegal, but it does hold the position that the site threatens a woman’s constitutional right to privacy and a right to choose. In response, NARAL has picked up its Internet toolbox and gone to work on a Web campaign to expose its membership to The Nuremburg Files.

A direct mail piece focusing on the issue will be sent out to 45,000 members and a special section on NARAL’s Web site (www.naral.org) has been constructed to educate constituents regarding the alleged attempt to create a climate of fear and intolerance for women, according to officials at the nonprofit.

NARAL has constructed a pop-up window on its home page that immediately announces, "Don’t Let Extremists Target Women!" Upon clicking to the next page, NARAL presents a sample screenshot and quotes that are featured on Horsley’s sites. The screen shot has "… deliberately obscured faces and other details to protect the individuals privacy – Horsley doesn’t."

The viewer is asked to take three steps. Step 1: To take action by signing a letter supporting NARAL’s exploration of legal and legislative options. Step 2: Donate to the emergency campaign to "stop people like Horsley." Step 3: Tell your friends how they can stop "this appalling assault on women’s privacy and safety." The organization also urges visitors to write in if they have ever been photographed outside a reproductive health facility. The site focuses on hitting the issues of safety and privacy for women.

During an interview with The NonProfit Times, Horsley countered, "The images are of people who are thrusting themselves into a matter of serious public concern."

He said, "Every court in the country has made it very clear that the matter of legalized abortion is a matter of extreme controversy that is, by definition, a matter of serious public concern. By definition, people who thrust themselves into matters of serious public concern — of public events — are understood to be legitimate focus for news gathering that do not require prior permission from the people involved. They know, or they should know, that they’re subject to being reported by the news gatherers."

Horsley stands behind the notion that he has the right to report all of the facts on the people involved, including names, addresses and telephone numbers, statistics that the organization does not currently possess. Those facts are a matter of public domain, he insisted.

"I don’t agree with that. That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy by Mr. Horsley," argued Sara Love, deputy legal director at NARAL. "He can make anything a hot topic, and then say it’s news. A woman going in to see her doctor is not news. It is her private medical decision, and it is not for public consumption."

Love is not quite so sure that Horsley’s site is illegal. It’s a question that a lot of individuals are currently examining. But, at the very least, what he is doing is intimidating and could make some women feel scared or threatened, she added.

"I would argue that a right to seek medical service doesn’t put you in the public eye," Love said. "He is not discriminating, if you will. He is taking pictures of anybody going into the clinics and calling them homicidal mothers. These could be people who could be going in for pap smears or routine gynecological exams or birth control. They’re not necessarily all going in for abortions. So, he could be putting them in a false light."

That lends itself to the question of whether Horsley is inciting possible danger, another legal avenue NARAL is currently researching. Love explained the goal is to have women who are able to exercise their right to choose without harassment, intimidation and threats.

But is this a simple safety and right to privacy issue or is NARAL attempting to flex their advocacy muscles in an attempt at cyber censorship? If you believe Horsley, it is NARAL that has issued the threats, despite taking no legal action against him to date.

"I’ve been through 50 ISPs (Internet Service Providers). They have literally chased me around the world," Horsley stated. "The ISPs have a bunch of customers and I’m only one who is only paying usually $100 to $200 a month, maybe on a really busy month as much as $1,000. When it comes down to it, when they get threatened by a whole complex of accusations and threats and they see how much money they get from me compared to how much they might lose if these threats came to pass, they shut me down."

NARAL’s attorneys constantly harass the ISPs with threatening letters and by making false accusations, Horsley contended. After all the battles, NARAL has not filed suit against Horsley or The Nuremburg Files once. That doesn’t mean that life as a publisher has been carefree. Along with having to bounce from ISP to ISP, he’s also been banned from doing business with PayPal, one of the Internet’s largest third-party payment systems.

All of the protests have only forced him to become more adept at handling ISPs, or "America’s censors" as he calls them. "We’re constantly reassessing that situation on a day-to-day basis. We’ve got servers in South Africa and Denmark and other countries that we can go to and within 30 minutes be back up online. So that whole idea that they can actually interfere with our publications is past."

Donahue denied that NARAL directly contacted ISPs. People have contacted NARAL and the organization suggests that they contact the servers themselves. NARAL has not directly asked for any of these sites to be shut down, she said. The nonprofit has acknowledged to collecting letters of support for its future actions that have yet to be determined. It is also asking supporters to voice their protests to Horsley’s sites directly.

"What they want everybody to do is to pretend that my premise is without foundation and that’s why they won’t let me show the pictures of what an aborted fetus looks like," Horsley replied. "That’s why they do everything in their power to take the attention off of what’s happening in those clinics and focus on the news that we’re gathering. They know what we’re doing is really hurting them."

Love believes strongly that the posting of photos by Horsley is something that should be stopped and the organization can make members aware of what is going on effectively via the Web. NARAL has made available on its Web page a form that can be electronically submitted by anyone who has been featured on Horsley’s sites. NARAL did not reveal whether anyone had submitted this complaint form.

NARAL doesn’t have a timetable and is currently exploring a number of different legislative and legal options to decide exactly what steps can be taken. Until that decision is made, the Web site will be relied upon to carry updates and rally members.

By setting its focus on this goal, the organization was concerned whether it was going to be bringing more attention to Horsley. As a result, it has chosen not to publicize the URL on its Web page, and it hasn’t included the URL in its direct mail pieces.

Horsley does not argue that additional attention has been given to him thanks to NARAL and other pro-choice groups. The way he sees it, NARAL has crafted an "urban legend" about him right up there in scope with Internet villains like "Bill Gates is the Antichrist" and the evil Hotel Room Kidney Harvester.

"They can convince everybody that I’m doing this (alleged illegal activity), even as years pass with my publications thrust in the face of everybody on the planet and no abortionist getting killed. They still keep saying it and everybody says, ‘Yeah boy, he’s out there and he’s really threatening all these people,’ when in reality it’s been years since anybody was even attacked. And, nobody was ever attacked who was listed in my publications. But because they’ve had the ability to say it over and over and over again through the mass media, I have been painted in this light."