First Amendment

Free Speech, Privacy Rights Clash in Dispute over Billboard Claiming Woman Had an Abortion

A jilted boyfriend’s free speech rights are pitted against his one-time girlfriend’s privacy rights in a court battle over a billboard with an anti-abortion message.

Greg Fultz of Alamogordo, N.M., paid for a billboard on his town’s main street that shows him holding the outline of an infant, report the Associated Press, the Alamogordo Daily News and the Albuquerque Journal (sub. req.). The message beside the photo reads: “This Would Have Been A Picture Of My 2-Month Old Baby If The Mother Had Decided To Not KILL Our Child!”

A hearing commissioner with the Otero County Domestic Violence Court has recommended granting an order of protection for the former girlfriend and an order requiring the billboard to be removed. The protection order is based on a claim that the billboard constituted harassment and violated the woman’s right to privacy.

The billboard originally contained the name of Fultz’s organization, “N.A.N.I.,” which supposedly stands for the National Association of Needed Information. “Nani” is also the first name of the ex-girlfriend. The reference has since been removed.

Fultz’s lawyer, Todd Holmes, told AP that the billboard may be distasteful and offensive to some, but his client has First Amendment rights under the Supreme Court’s recent decision protecting church members who carry anti-gay signs at military funerals. Holmes plans to appeal the removal order.

The ex-girlfriend’s lawyer, Ellen Jessen, said her client’s private life has been invaded. The woman’s friends have said she had a miscarriage, not an abortion, but Jessen says the issue is beside the point. “Freedom of speech is not absolute,” she told the Alamogordo Daily News. “Freedom of privacy is very much a part of the Constitution as well.”

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