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Jury Clobbers Pro-Life Web Site

In a major legal decision that could rewrite the rules of the road on the information superhighway, a federal court jury has found an anti-abortion Web site went beyond constitutional free speech to condone deadly violence against doctors who perform abortions.

The site's operators were ordered to pay $107 million in damages.

The plaintiffs, who included Planned Parenthood and several abortion providers, sued under racketeering laws and a 1994 federal law that prohibits inciting violence against abortion doctors or their patients.

Unlike previous cases, this one did not involve any physical confrontations or explicit threats. Because of that, the anti-abortion activists contended the Internet site and the posters were protected by the First Amendment.

CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes reports that it is the infamous Nuremberg Web site, which lists abortion doctors and puts a black line through the names of those who've been killed, that is at the center of the debate over free speech in cyberspace.

Up until now the, courts have protected just about everything online. But Tuesday in Portland, Oregon, jurors decided that there should be limits, agreeing with doctors who say they've been terrorized by the anti-abortion activists.

"This activity must stop, intimidation is wrong, these doctors must be permitted to practice medicine as their patients choose," says Maria Vullo the plaintiff's attorney.

During the three-week trial doctors and others listed on the anti-abortion web site testified that they lived in constant fear. They said they used disguises and bodyguards.

"Free speech is not in jeopardy but I know women and doctors that are," says Dr. Elizabeth Newhall.

But several dozen anti-abortion groups and activists who were named as defendants disagree and vow not to pay the more than $100 million judgment.

"I have no intention of giving money to people who kill children, said defendant Cathy Ramey.

Defense attorney Charles Wysong agreed saying, "We're going to continue what we're doing we did before."

Does that mean they'll keep the Web site up and running? Well, for now it's still on the Internet and more personal information about doctors was added even as the trial was under way.

But after this ruling, the judge now has the ability to make decisions on the content of the site. If the judge shuts the Web site down, it would be truly unprecedented.

It's not expected that the judge would do that. At least one person listed on the Web site says the most they can hope for is removal of some of the most threatening language.

©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report