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Vindicating a pro-life defender

Thankfully, a federal jury saw through the charges against Mark Houck

Pro-life activist Mark Houck, left, with his family The Thomas More Society

Vindicating a pro-life defender
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Mothers worry. It seems an unavoidable consequence of being blessed with children. Despite the assurances that the Lord who sees all loves our children even more than we do, we tend to worry about getting homework done and kids to soccer practice on time. We worry about what media our kids see and what their teachers say at school, and sometimes tragedy strikes and has us worrying about a devastating diagnosis or worse. But no mother should have to worry about what to tell her children when they see nearly two dozen FBI agents pointing loaded rifles at their parents.

Yet this is exactly what Ryan-Marie Houck faced.

While her seven children screamed from the top of the stairs, Ryan-Marie watched as an armed, SWAT-style FBI team stormed their suburban home and arrested her husband, Mark.

Mark Houck was arrested for defending his 12-year-old son, Mark Jr., from a pro-abortion advocate outside of an abortion facility. Father and son were peacefully praying outside a Planned Parenthood when Bruce Love, a volunteer at the facility, initiated an encounter, approaching the praying father and son while yelling obscenities, including sexually explicit content.

According to court testimony, Bruce Love, in front of the 12-year-old, accosted the Houcks, father and son, with profane language. When Love began to address the 12-year-old boy directly, Mark shoved the man away from his son, causing Love to fall. The Planned Parenthood escort was not seriously injured, and the local authorities who investigated the incident decided not to prosecute anyone.

This minor altercation was the incident that resulted in at least twenty FBI agents surrounding Mark and Ryan-Marie Houck’s home early one Friday morning. A time at which their seven young children were sure to be home.

A year after the altercation, the Department of Justice charged Mark Houck with violating the FACE Act—a federal law that, on its face, makes it a crime to “injure, intimidate, or interfere” with anyone providing “reproductive health services.” While one might think that such a law was written to protect those who work at and volunteer with pregnancy care centers, one would be wrong. In fact, the law has been almost exclusively used to protect abortion providers.

This case is one of several examples of the federal government using aggressive litigation and law enforcement to intimidate faithful advocates for life.

The Houck family was forced to endure a terrifying trial—in federal court. If they lost, Mr. Houck was facing up to eleven years in a federal prison—his children facing eleven years of Christmases, birthdays, and graduations without him. As Mark’s attorney said, the Department of Justice tried to make a federal case “out of a shove.”

Thankfully, the Pennsylvania jury saw through the Biden administration’s political tactics and returned a jury verdict finding Mark not guilty of every charge in less than an hour. Despite a hostile justice department accusing Mark of attacking people with whom he politically disagrees, the jury affirmed the father’s right to protect his son from psychologically damaging harassment. The Houck family fought back against the Biden administration—and won.

This case is one of several examples of the federal government using aggressive litigation and law enforcement to intimidate faithful advocates for life. A father pushing a man who initiated a confrontation by approaching a praying twelve-year-old and screaming obscenities at him is not a federal case—even if the government does not agree with the family’s religious views.

In fact, prosecutions under the rarely used FACE Act jumped by 600 percent last year—not coincidentally, the year Roe v. Wade was overturned. And the year in which the leaked opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization started a national wave of violence against pregnancy care centers, resulting in at least 57 attacks. The Biden administration’s one-sided enforcement of the FACE Act against pro-life individuals has generated intense criticism.

Perhaps to placate those who have pointed out the inequitable application of the FACE Act, the Department of Justice recently charged two pro-abortion protestors, after they spray painted threats such as—“if abortions aren’t safe, then you aren’t either”—onto several pregnancy care centers.

But is this too little too late? Of the 23 criminal cases of FACE Act violations highlighted on the Department of Justice’s official website, every single case was brought against pro-life advocates. Astonishingly, this list highlights the Houck case, a case that is a gross example of federal overreach. The list also highlights that despite numerous examples of pregnancy care centers—centers that provide women with the support and resources needed to make a real choice—receiving threats or being openly attacked, the federal government is choosing to allocate resources towards putting faithful fathers behind bars.

Mothers across the country now have a new worry. Will they wake up one day to find their families under attack from a government determined to punish them for expressing their views and protecting their children?

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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