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A pro-lifer goes to jail

The Biden administration politicizes the FACE Act with one-sided enforcement


Lauren Handy (center), joins other protesters at a rally outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on April 21, 2023. Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin

A pro-lifer goes to jail
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Earlier this week, Lauren Handy, a pro-life activist, was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison and three years of supervised release. Her sentence was just the latest in dozens of aggressive prosecutions against pro-life protestors brought by the Biden administration’s Department of Justice under a federal statute known as the FACE Act—a law that is supposed to protect access to both pregnancy care centers and abortion clinics. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark when an administration largely ignores the widespread vandalism of pro-life pregnancy care centers while bringing dozens of FACE Act claims against pro-life demonstrators.

Lauren Handy and four other pro-life activists were convicted under the FACE Act for blocking access to an abortion clinic in Washington, D.C. The prosecutors argued—and the judge agreed—that the 2020 protest was violent because it left a nurse with a sprained ankle. Hardy had used a fake name to book an appointment and the nurse was injured when Hardy and her co-defendants pushed past her to enter the abortion clinic. Once they entered the abortion clinic, the protestors blocked the clinic entrance with chains and furniture.

When sentencing Ms. Handy to nearly five years in federal prison the judge opined that the “law does not protect violent nor obstructive conduct, nor should it.” Fair enough. There are better ways to demonstrate the tragedy of abortion and show that God values all life than chaining entrances or shoving past nurses. But the reality is that the FACE Act has been weaponized to target political opponents of abortion with federal prosecution and hefty sentences while pregnancy care center vandals go free.

The FACE Act grants federal jurisdiction over interference with access to reproductive health services. According to the Department of Justice, “the FACE Act is not about abortions” but also protects “pro-life pregnancy counseling services.” You could have fooled me. In 2022, the Department brought federal criminal charges against at least 26 pro-life individuals under the FACE Act. The Department brought zero charges against those who obstructed or vandalized pregnancy care centers in 2022. In fact, despite the more than 200 cases of vandalism against pregnancy care centers and churches since Roe v. Wade was overturned, the Department has charged only a handful of individuals.

This weaponization of the justice system has not gone unnoticed.

This weaponization of the justice system has not gone unnoticed. Legislators have called on Congress to repeal the FACE Act based in part on its usurpation of the police power generally left to the states. As Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said in a statement: “The Biden DOJ has weaponized this constitutionally suspect law against pro-life sidewalk counselors while failing to protect pregnancy centers and churches from violent attacks.”

Indeed, DOJ’s aggressive prosecution of Lauren Handy is par for the course. Readers will remember Mark Houck. Instead of accepting Mark’s offer to appear voluntarily, the FBI chose to send as many as 15 armed FBI agents to his home to arrest him in front of his seven children. Houck had shoved a Planned Parenthood escort who yelled at his 12-year-old son. State and local authorities declined to prosecute but DOJ saw a federal crime under the FACE Act. A federal jury disagreed and a federal judge criticized DOJ prosecutors for stretching the law “a little thin.”

Or take another example from Nashville, Tenn. In March 2021, pro-life advocates protested at an abortion clinic. They preached and sang hymns while some of them blocked the door to the clinic. Almost 18 months later, armed FBI agents pounded on Paul Vaughn’s home with guns drawn. His 11 children watched as the FBI handcuffed and arrested their father. Vaughn and others were convicted of violating the FACE Act by physically obstructing the clinic. He and his co-defendants will be sentenced in July and face up to 10 and a half years in prison, three years of supervised release, and fines up to $260,000.

It’s not the first time our leaders have sought to silence dissenters. In 1798, the Adams administration pushed the Alien and Sedition Acts through Congress. The Sedition Act criminalized the fundamental First Amendment right to disagree with the government, making it illegal to “print, utter, or publish” any false or malicious criticism of President John Adams (but not Vice President Thomas Jefferson). This was a blatant violation of the Constitution’s protections—that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or the press. Trials under the Sedition Act set off a “firestorm of criticism” and contributed to Adams’ defeat in the election of 1800. The weaponization of the FACE Act to intimidate and silence one side of the abortion debate should set off a similar storm of criticism.


Erin Hawley

Erin Hawley is a wife, mom of three, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, and a law professor at Regent University School of Law.


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