Pro-Life Sidewalk Counselors in Austria Face Fines, Jail Time

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 21, 2011   |   7:05PM   |   Vienna, Austria

A ruling by a judge in Graz, Austria is a case of blatant persecution of pro-lifers, says Human Life International president Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro-Carambula.

“The complete bias and disregard for the facts in this ruling shows the extent to which anti-life advocates, including judges, will go to perpetuate the culture of death,” said Barreiro. “This is the kind of persecution HLI’s pro-life missionaries around the world face on a daily basis.”

A report released this week by the Catholic video website helps explain the “contradictory” and “bizarre” nature of Jude Erik Nauta’s ruling against four pro-life advocates, including Dietmar Fischer, director of HLI Austria. Judge Nauta fined Fischer an astonishing $10,000 for his pro-life advocacy, and also charged pro-life sidewalk counselors fines between $600 and $1,200 each for what the judge considered to be “stalking” of the Graz-based abortion practitioner Johannes Hanfstingl.

Look at the testimonies,” Fischer said. “The abortionist Dr. Hanfstingl told the court that we did not ‘stalk’ him, and that we only wanted to inform the women going to the clinic about pro-life resources.”

Judge Nauta’s ruling occurred in early April, and the case is currently under appeal. If the appeal fails, Fischer can face up to three months in jail if he does not pay the fine, and his colleagues also face jail time.

“From our affiliate we have learned that the original charge was a lesser one brought by the abortionist against the three pro-life sidewalk counselors in 2009,” Barreiro said. “After some time, the case reached an agreement and was sent to the Ministry of Justice in Vienna. It is that court that found the verdict unsatisfactory, sending it back to the Graz court, at which time Judge Nauta unilaterally elevated the charges to ‘stalking’, which is much more serious, and extended the charge to include Mr. Fischer, who was not even in Graz at the time of the supposed offense.”

“The appeal currently underway is based on the fact that all of the witnesses for the prosecution, including the abortionist, admit that Mr. Fischer did not stalk the abortionist, but merely supplied leaflets and materials to the counselors,” he said. “There is no basis for the case as it currently exists, but that does not necessarily mean that justice will prevail in this case. America is not the only nation whose judges do not see themselves as being constrained by evidence, the nation’s constitution, or natural law.”

Joannes Bucher, HLI’s regional director for Europe, who is based in Austria, also commented on the case.

“Dietmar is accused of offering, for free, eleven week old baby models, support flyers for pregnant mothers and rosaries for the pregnant counseling centre in Graz,” he said. “These pro-life resources were given as support from HLI Austria, but Dietmar himself was never in Graz to counsel women in front of this abortion centre.”

The fees currently stand at 5,500 Euro, or $7,200US. If the appeal fails, the defendants face a fee of 7,200 Euro, or $10,300US.