(CN) – Efforts to stop an anti-abortion protester from using his webpage to paint procedures done by doctors as “aggravated murder” and equating abortion to the Holocaust did not violate his freedom of expression, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday.
Klaus Annen used his website to complain abortion providers in his neighborhood committed “aggravated murder” each time they performed a procedure – and equated the procedures the doctors performed with the Holocaust. One doctor, identified in court documents only as Dr. Q, sought and won a civil injunction to stop some aspects of Annen’s anti-abortion campaign.
Annen also papered his town with leaflets about another provider, Dr. S. In the leaflets, Annen said: “Near you: unlawful abortions” and “Are you silent about the aggravated murder of our children?” Dr. S won his injunction, with a court finding Annen’s leaflets created an unfair “pillory effect” since Dr. S had never engaged publicly in the abortion debate.
Two other cases ended in similar injunctions against Annen, and the Federal Constitutional Court rejected all his appeals.
He took his case to the European Court of Human Rights, hopeful for a finding the injunctions unconstitutionally curtailed his right to free expression. He struck out with that 7-judge panel on Thursday.
The Strasbourg-based rights court noted the legality of abortion in Germany is nebulous: while not technically legal, it’s also not a crime to perform one if you’re a licensed medical professional and if the person desiring the procedure has gone through state-mandated counseling and the three-day waiting period. So Annen’s statements accusing the doctors of aggravated murder were not true and therefore not protected speech, the court found.
That Annen in three of the cases ducked having to pay damages also weighed in favor of the injunctions, the rights court found, since only being ordered to stop bad-mouthing the doctors was proportionate and fair.
In the fourth case where Annen was ordered to pay damages to the doctor, however, the rights court found Annen’s statements so egregious that the damages were warranted. He had again equated the doctor’s practice with the Holocaust, but amped it up by coining a new term: “Babycaust.”
Given the damage done by Annen to the doctor’s reputation, the damages the court ordered were proportionate according to the EU rights court.