New Mexico Billboard Triggers Fight Between Privacy and Free Speech

There is an interesting free speech case out of Otero County, New Mexico. Hearing commissioner Darrell Brantley of the Otero County Domestic Violence Court has recommended an order of protection for Nani Lawrence against Greg A. Fultz after Fultz paid for a pro-life billboard criticizing the abortion of their alleged child. Brantley also wants the billboard taken down as a violation of Lawrence’s right of privacy.

It now goes to Twelfth Judicial District Judge James W. Counts, who is expected who is expected to sign the order of protection and an order the removal of the billboard.

The billboard shows Fultz, 35, holding what appears to the outline of a baby in his arms with the statement, “This Would Have Been A Picture Of My 2-month Old Baby If The Mother Had Decided To Not KILL Our Child!” Notably, the billboard does not name Nani Lawrence. However, in a rather transparent reference, Fultz displays the endorsement of an organization he created called National Association of Needed Information. That’s right N.A.N.I.

Fultz later removed the endorsement of N.A.N.I. from the billboard.
Lawrence’s attorney Ellen Jessen said the order of protection was recommended under the Family Violence Protection Act.

The issue was closer when N.A.N.I. appeared on the sign, but it becomes a serious question of free speech if it is a statement from a father opposed to the abortion of the child. This is personal information for both the father and mother. Presumably, either part has a right to discuss his or her own experience with abortion. If true, it is not defamation. The right to privacy includes the tort of intrusion against seclusion and the public disclosure of embarrassing private facts.

The intrusion tort doesn’t fit because this is the disclosure of a fact disclosed to the father. The public disclosure tort runs into the same problem as a disclosed fact without any agreement to keep the information confidential. More importantly, this is a claimed injury or harm to the father coupled with a strong philosophical or religious view that he wishes to discuss publicly. Just as the original Jane Doe has discussed her abortion (and later opposition to abortion), a father should have the same right to publicly discuss his own experience. His use of the name was unnecessary and problematic. However, I am not sure that he could not reveal the name as long as he is speaking truthfully under the common law. The question is the obligation of a former boyfriend to keep the fact of the abortion secret.

There is also the question of balancing the remedy against the right now that the woman’s name is public. Does this mean that Fultz cannot discuss his views and alleged harm in public for the rest of time?

What do you think?

Source: Alamogordo News as first seen on Reddit.

Jonathan Turley

75 thoughts on “New Mexico Billboard Triggers Fight Between Privacy and Free Speech”

  1. I’ve witnessed many truly appalling things in my days, but this crosses the line. The husband and the folks responsible for this display of sheer hate belong in SuperMax – TODAY.

  2. Professor Turley,

    “The intrusion tort doesn’t fit because this is the disclosure of a fact disclosed to the father.”


    Evidently, Ms. Lawrence did not tell Fultz that she had had an abortion.

    From the Daily Mail article I posted a link to in a previous comment:

    “Mr Fultz said the couple had been dating for six months, and Miss Lawrence lost the baby around the time the relationship ended, but had refused to tell him what happened.”

    Also from the article: “Today Mr Fultz admitted he didn’t know for sure whether Miss Lawrence had an abortion, and claimed the sign, which shows a picture of him holding a baby’s silhouette, wasn’t aimed at her personally.”

    Since Fultz admitted that he didn’t know if his ex-girlfriend had had an abortion, could his billboard be considered a form of libel or slander?

  3. I have noted that this thread quickly drifted from the First Amendment into the thickets of abortion. As to that, I can only repeat what I’ve said before. Conversations conducted on parallel planes will never meet. (I know, the theoretical physicists in the group are about to explain to me how parallel planes DO in fact meet.)

  4. Everyone talks about giving women a choice. Very well. If she was raped, if she was pressured, if she was too young to understand, then okay, I will not begrudge her making what was for her the first choice she had in the matter. If, on the other hand, she was a willing participant in sex, and that resulted in pregnancy, the choice occurred with the sex.

    Let’s imagine a game where, if you win, you get ice cream, but if you lose, you pay a million dollars to charity over the next twenty years. If you could come up with a play strategy so the odds were 99.9% in your favor of winning, you might risk playing, and it’s definitely smarter than playing if the odds were 50%, or even 80%. But if you play daily, or if you get sloppier in your strategy because you want to get your ice cream sooner, you will still, sooner or later, lose. Do we then allow you to refuse to pay the natural consequences of your risk? (What if the only way to avoid paying is for you to hire someone to burn down the charity?)

    (This is actually starting to remind me of certain Wall Street activities. I wasn’t aiming for that when I started this metaphor. At least they only took our tax dollars instead of demanding that we be removed from the world via “medical procedure.”)

  5. I meant to add that had she not miscarried, Ms. Lawrence would likely be chasing Mr. Fultz for child support.

  6. I lived in Otero County at one time. Alamogordo is a small town. My initial reaction was that an injunction would not lie, but if Elaine’s report is accurate, Ms. Lawrence ought to have a false light claim against Mr. Fultz.

    Regardless of the merits of her case, however, this guy strikes me as a first class loser.

  7. I recommend reading the following:

    Woman at centre of anti-abortion billboard row sues ex-boyfriend for harassment – as her friends insist she had a miscarriage
    June 7, 2011

    The woman whose ex-boyfriend spent $1,300 on a right-to-life billboard accusing her of aborting their baby has taken him to court for harassment and invasion of privacy – as her friends claim she had a miscarriage.

    Greg Fultz, 35, sparked a free speech battle when he paid for a sign along the main thoroughfare of Alamogordo, New Mexico, reading ‘this would have been a picture of my two-month-old baby if the mother had decided not to kill our child.’

    A domestic violence commissioner has recommended his ex-girlfriend, student Nani Lawrence, be granted a protection order against Mr Fultz – and demanded he take the sign down.

    Today Mr Fultz admitted he didn’t know for sure whether Miss Lawrence had an abortion, and claimed the sign, which shows a picture of him holding a baby’s silhouette, wasn’t aimed at her personally.

    It also emerged Miss Lawrence had set up a profile on, a website for mothers-to-be, last year. It shows a picture of her and Mr Futlz, with the poignant caption ‘me and my boyfriend are so excited!’

  8. Gyges: “… may be avoiding work…” LOL, been there, done that, may be doing it now also 🙂 GET TO WORK YOU SLACKERS!

  9. “Woosty: “It isn’t feminist for a woman to control how her own body is used…it is essential.”

    Yes. This issue is the most stark and unambiguous division in America IMO. There are the people that believe your own body belongs to you alone and there are those that don’t. That there is even a debate over it is amazing.

  10. I do not envy women the tribulations associated with decisions regarding procreation.

  11. I find it ironic that this is a privacy issue, since the woman’s privacy would have been much better protected had she simply ignored the (distasteful, deplorable, indefensible) billboard. Because she decided to make it into a legal issue, the entire country now knows who she is.

  12. Sperm doesn’t make fathers anymore than wombs make moms. That Futz has a billboard proclaiming why he should never be a father. The reason abortion is necessary is that sperm can be used as a weapon. Child support laws, because wombs can be used as a weapon. It isn’t feminist for a woman to control how her own body is used…it is essential.

    If people respected Mothers they would recognize that a woman who chooses to bring children into the world and give them what they need is extraordinary…but we don’t, as a society, see women as anything but means to an end. And THAT is criminal.

  13. Moron,

    Well, I guess that all depends on what we mean by: child, has, body, and kill.
    Let’s start with the first one. I’m going by the general definition of “a human in between birth an physical maturity.” I’m going to guess that you’re using the Merriam-Webster definition which includes the fetus. So, for the sake of clarity how about we use the generally accepted developmental terms, zygote, embryo, etc.?

  14. @Moron, please produce evidence of a “soul.”

    While we wait, consider that existing law is tiered to reflect the maturing embryo and fetus. It is much more difficult to obtain an abortion later than earlier. This was done to balance concerns without depriving the women of her right to chose what happens to her body, including bearing children.

    Your application of a religious notion, i.e. “soul,” does not in any way diminish a woman’s legal right to make her own medical decisions, and without your input. It does seem to suggest that you are willing to insert your religious notions into the lives of perfect strangers for reasons that are not entirely clear. So you can sleep better?

  15. Gyges, it’s still your body. And the child being aborted has his body, so why can YOU choose to kill his body and soul just because it’s contained in your body?

  16. Frank, Good idea- I’m in.

    Well said Gyges, that’s the bottom line: medical procedure, patient, doctor.

  17. So a man also has a right to choose? So why don’t grandparents, siblings and spouse have a right to choose whether to abort their child, brother or sister or grandchild? Only the mother has that right to choose?

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