Pastor Guilty in Stalking Abortion Doctors

Flip Benham, national director of Operation Save America, preaches to about 1,000 anti-abortion protesters Monday, July 16, 2001, during a rally in a Wichita, Kan., park. The group has selected a Wichita abortion clinic operated by Dr. George Tiller for a weeklong Summer of Mercy renewal protest. AP

A North Carolina pastor was found guilty of violating a state law that prohibits residential picketing for stalking a doctor who performs abortions. He was sentenced to 24 months probation and plans to appeal, reports WSOC-TV in Charlotte.

Reverend Phillip "Flip" Benham, 62, director of the anti-abortion group Operation Save America, had posted wild west-style "Wanted" posters which gave doctors' names and home addresses. Benham said the First Amendment gave him the right to do this.

"It doesn't say 'Wanted Dead or Alive' but the implications are clearly there," said one doctor, who, fearing for his life, asked to remain anonymous in an interview with CBS News Correspondent Michelle Miller last month.

Watch: Interview With Targeted Abortion Doctors

"I am always looking over my shoulder. I know they know my car. They know my face. They've been to my house. They've put these posters in my neighborhood. So yeah, I look over my shoulder."

Prosecutors said the posters amounted to advocating violence against the doctors, like putting a target on the doctor's back.

For his part, WSOC-TV reports that Benham denied it was a call for murder, saying, "Nobody has gone and killed because [he or she] saw a poster. That is most absurd and logical fallacy that there possibly could be."

However, Miller reports that in the 1990s similar fliers were distributed in other cities and were followed by a series of murders. Pensacola, Fla., Doctor David Gunn and Dr. George Patterson of Alabama were shot and killed in 1993. Dr. John Britton was murdered a year later in Florida. All were targets on Wanted posters.

Dr. George Tiller survived an assassination attempt in Wichita in 1993. He was killed in his church last year.

Federal law makes it a crime to use force, or even the threat of force, to prevent people from accessing clinics. In 2002, a U.S. Appeals Court ruled that Wanted posters similar to these were a violation of that law.
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