It’s time to honor the law
Calling for an equal application of the FACE Act
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Our nation’s commitment to the rule of law is essential to resolving our disagreements. That is all the more true in the debate over abortion. Perhaps that is why Congress recently held a hearing on the implications of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE).
I had the opportunity to testify about the Act before members of Congress. As part of my testimony, I reminded our elected leaders that applying the FACE Act equitably ensures and demands that our nation will not tolerate violence as a means to political ends.
The FACE Act, passed in 1994, is intentionally broad in its scope, affording protection to facilities that provide services “relating to the human reproductive system.” It is also quite clear: If you attempt to injure, intimidate, or interfere with access to a reproductive health facility, you may face both criminal charges and civil penalties.
Congress intended the FACE Act to enforce our nation’s commitment to the rule of law and its equal application to all citizens. It is indifferent to ideology, whether pro-choice or pro-life. The law applies to both abortion clinics and crisis pregnancy centers, sometimes called pregnancy resource centers (PRCs).
However, since the leak of the Supreme Court draft of the Dobbs decision in May 2022, well over 100 reported cases of threats, intimidation, and vandalism against life-affirming PRCs have been reported. Those facilities deserve protection under the FACE Act.
These life-affirming reproductive health facilities have been defaced, paint-bombed, and vandalized, with windows broken. Their staff and volunteers have faced doxxing and repeated threats in person, by mail, and online.
Far too often, these threats have been explicitly motivated by animosity toward the religious beliefs that inspire many life-affirming reproductive health facilities. Formed and operated by like-minded religious citizens seeking to exercise the central tenets of their faith by caring for women and their families facing unplanned pregnancies, these reproductive health facilities deserve the equal protection of the laws, including the FACE Act.
Yet, despite these numerous attacks to life-affirming reproductive health facilities, the Department of Justice has issued just a single indictment under the FACE Act in the past year.
At Clearway Clinic in Worcester, Mass., a reproductive health facility by the FACE Act’s definition, vandals shattered the glass of the clinic’s front door. Vulnerable clients would arrive to find boarded-up windows and spray-painted threats on the threshold from “Jane’s Revenge.”
Not far away, Pam Hibbard lives and works at the Bethlehem House in Easthampton, Mass., a faith-based PRC that provides reproductive counseling to women every day. At her center, like thousands around the country, women receive diapers, baby clothes, support, and loving guidance throughout their pregnancy.
On Aug. 18, 2022, she woke to find shattered glass strewn about the ground. Her facility had red paint dripping down the outside walls as if it were blood. In the back of the facility, in an area set aside as a prayer corner meant for reflection and comfort, vandals spray-painted a threatening message on the pavement: “If abortions aren’t safe, neither are you.” Hibbard feared not only for her safety, but that of her clients.
The FACE Act explicitly authorizes state attorneys general to seek civil penalties on behalf of the citizens of each state against those who engage in such unlawful acts of intimidation. Rather than seek penalties against the vandals who attacked these facilities, former Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy (now Gov. Healy) threatened the centers with sanctions and issued a consumer advisory against the very centers who suffered injury and intimidation at the hands of Jane’s Revenge.
State officials should instead follow the example of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. Once Moody knew the names of the alleged vandals who attacked a pregnancy center in Hialeah, Fla., she filed a lawsuit under the FACE Act to impose the maximum civil penalties against them. She followed the law set forth in the FACE Act which is meant to hold accountable those who use violence to express disagreement.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) must take seriously its duty to investigate these crimes and indict criminals under the FACE Act. That the DOJ has returned just a single indictment in the face of more than 100 acts of intimidation and violence toward life-affirming reproductive health facilities has left many Americans wondering whether U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has chosen party politics over the rule of law.
Violence is never an appropriate response to political, ideological, or religious disagreements and those who express their disagreement in violent reactions against life-affirming reproductive health facilities must be held accountable under the law.
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