Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Jilted Ex-Boyfriend Puts Up Libelous Billboard, Hides Behind Free Speech

A woman consents to, all on her own pretty self, and undergoes a common, perfectly legal medical procedure. Her ex-boyfriend, vexed that the woman had the procedure against his wishes, puts up a billboard making unsupported claims about her medical history, and falsely accusing her of committing a crime.

The ex-boyfriend's attorney argues this is a First Amendment free speech issue:

ALAMOGORDO, N.M. – A New Mexico man's decision to lash out with a billboard ad saying his ex-girlfriend had an abortion against his wishes has touched off a legal debate over free speech and privacy rights.

The sign on Alamogordo's main thoroughfare shows 35-year-old Greg Fultz holding the outline of an infant. The text reads, "This Would Have Been A Picture Of My 2-Month Old Baby If The Mother Had Decided To Not KILL Our Child!"

Fultz's ex-girlfriend has taken him to court for harassment and violation of privacy. A domestic court official has recommended the billboard be removed.

But Fultz's attorney argues the order violates his client's free speech rights.

"As distasteful and offensive as the sign may be to some, for over 200 years in this country the First Amendment protects distasteful and offensive speech," Todd Holmes said.

The woman's friends say she had a miscarriage, not an abortion, according to a report in the Albuquerque Journal.

Holmes disputes that, saying his case is based on the accuracy of his client's statement.

"My argument is: What Fultz said is the truth," Holmes said.

The woman's lawyer said she had not discussed the pregnancy with her client. But for Ellen Jessen, whether her client had a miscarriage or an abortion is not the point. The central issue is her client's privacy and the fact that the billboard has caused severe emotional distress, Jessen said.

"Her private life is not a matter of public interest," she told the Alamogordo Daily News.


I am unclear on what making unsupported and false statements about a person's medical care has to do with free speech, but one thing is crystal clear.

Pregnant women should be forced to make their medical records publicly available so that we all can judge their medical decisions and let the world know how we, you know, feel about those decisions.

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4 Comments:

At 5:15 AM, Blogger peny113 said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 8:16 PM, Blogger Kevin said...

@ Ema: With all due respect, the title of your post is somewhat misleading. First, the veracity of the allegation that the young lady in question had an abortion is, from the text of the article you cite, is disputed: her friends claim that she miscarried, the man believes for whatever reason that she either had an abortion or suffered a miscarriage as a result of intentional or some other culpable reason (I raise this latter point because while the man presumably meant she had an abortion, nothing in the text of the billboard actually says abortion, aborted, etc.). If she claimed defamation, the truth or falsity of the claim would be at issue legally. However, as the article claims she alleged harassment and invasion of privacy, the veracity of the allegation may not really be the issue. One invasion of privacy tort (false light) relies upon falsity, whereas another (public disclosure of private information) does not. The issue raised is this: if the allegation is true or veracity is not at issue, does her right to privacy outweigh his right to free speech. As an almost absolute free speech proponent, I'd most likely so no, but the courts have recognized various exceptions and this may very well fall within one of them. Also, not to be too technical, but the billboard doesn't accuse her of a crime--it merely says that she "killed" the baby. Kill is not a legal term denoting a crime, such as murder, manslaughter or homicide. It merely means that a life was taken, and whether that term is appropriate depends on one's own viewpoint on when life begins. For myself, it begins at birth and not one second sooner. But that's just me.

 
At 12:24 AM, Blogger ema said...

Kevin,

Here's what I meant by unsupported medical claims. On the billboard he claims she killed his child. Without access to her medical chart, he has no way to know if 1) it is his child, 2) it was an elective, as opposed to therapeutic, pregnancy termination.

Regardless of the veracity of 1 and 2, one thing cannot be disputed. Any claims he makes about her medical condition/care are unsupported because he does not have access to her chart.

As to the veracity of the claim that she had an abortion, I don't think that's disputed by her friends. All that they're saying is that she had a spontaneous, rather than an elective, abortion.

Your point about his belief that she either had an abortion or suffered a miscarriage as a result of intentional or some other culpable reason is interesting, but I think it's speculative since we don't have enough information.

One invasion of privacy tort (false light) relies upon falsity, whereas another (public disclosure of private information) does not.

Interesting. I think she could use both, but I don't know if that is legally allowed.

The issue raised is this: if the allegation is true or veracity is not at issue, does her right to privacy outweigh his right to free speech. As an almost absolute free speech proponent, I'd most likely so no, but the courts have recognized various exceptions and this may very well fall within one of them.

As a rule, I'm with you on the free speech issue, except when it comes to medical information on which I do an elegant (if I do say so myself) 180.

I think one interesting issue here is how do courts deal with medical information disclosure/claim when it comes from a lay person rather than a health care professional. I would not expect the ex-boyfriend to be held to the same standard as the woman's Ob/Gyn, but I would think that there are some restrictions when it comes to a person's private medical information.

Also, not to be too technical, but the billboard doesn't accuse her of a crime--it merely says that she "killed" the baby. Kill is not a legal term denoting a crime, such as murder, manslaughter or homicide. It merely means that a life was taken, and whether that term is appropriate depends on one's own viewpoint on when life begins.

He specifically accuses her of killing/taking the life of My 2-Month Old Baby/Our Child. That's infanticide; it's illegal, a crime.

Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware that the propaganda has been so successful that we are now at a point where, when it comes to abortion, as you noted, viewpoint determines whether a life was taken.

Still, in the real world, there is no way to tell if a particular pregnancy will carry to term and result in a live delivery, and if you take the life of a baby/child that's infanticide.

 
At 5:15 PM, Anonymous Joan Sura said...

Una interesante opinión personal, pero creo que debe primar el cuidado de la salud antes que intereses personales.

 

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