March 26, 1997 6:15 PM ET
Federal judge dismisses challenge to ban on online abortion info
By Maria Seminerio

  A federal judge in Eastern District Court in New York City today dismissed a challenge to a little-known provision of the Communications Decency Act that would ban the posting of information about abortion on the Internet.

The challenge was moot because President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno -- proponents of the CDA's wider goal of banning the online posting of "indecent" speech where minors can see it -- have both said publicly that the abortion-speech ban is unconstitutional and won't be enforced, Judge Charles Sifton wrote in the decision.

Upholding the challenge, filed a year ago by a coalition of abortion-rights advocates including Planned Parenthood, would "create a controversy where none existed before," Sifton wrote.

The CDA's abortion-speech provision is a latter-day version of an earlier statute out-lawing the distribution of abortion-related materials through the mail or over the telephone. Such laws have been declared unconstitutional by U.S. courts in the past.

The plaintiffs, while encouraged by the wording of Sifton's decision, said in a statement they still fear that a future attorney general might try to revive the statute. The Planned Parenthood coalition was hoping for a formal declaration that it violated First Amendment rights, but Sifton's decision said any official hoping to bring back the law would have to give advance notice of such an attempt and suggested the plaintiffs could appeal it at that point.

Meanwhile, the CDA, introduced last February as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, is now being reviewed by the Supreme Court. A lower court struck it down on First Amendment grounds last June, but the government appealed the decision. The Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling on the appeal by this summer.

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