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Delayed reaction


WORLD Radio - Delayed reaction

A Tennessee jury finds six pro-life activists guilty of conspiracy and violating federal law

Paul Vaughn with his wife Photo courtesy of The Thomas More Society

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: a surprising verdict.

We recently reported the story of six pro-life advocates facing federal charges for demonstrating outside an abortion facility in Tennessee.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Well, last Tuesday a jury found them all guilty. Sentencing is scheduled for July, where each faces a maximum prison sentence of ten-and-a-half years.

WORLD Reporter Travis Kircher caught up with one of those activists and has an update to that story.

TRAVIS KIRCHER: Paul Vaughn says he almost didn’t take part in the pro-life demonstration outside the abortion facility in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. He had other things on his mind.

VAUGHN: My wife was due with our 11th baby and we were questionable even showing up that day because of some pre-contractions.

But he showed up anyway. Over the years, he’s provided sidewalk counseling to expectant mothers at several demonstrations. He calls it his ministry – and says it’s a natural extension of his conversion to Christ.

VAUGHN: I don’t see where you can be a Christian and have any other option, given the words that Jesus gave us to go rescue the needy – rescue those that are being drug away to slaughter. 

So on March 5, 20-21, Vaughn and other pro-lifers gathered in a public hallway of a multi-tenant medical center…just outside the offices of an abortion facility.

As women approached the facility Vaughn says pro-life counselors would meet them.

VAUGHN: And part of the training is you don’t overwhelm someone in that situation. You don’t yell and shout and intimidate them or anything like that. You’re trying to build a rapport and you can’t do that if they’re feeling threatened or anything.

But someone called the police, and when officers arrived, Vaughn says he took it upon himself to negotiate with law enforcement.

VAUGHN: I went to them and I said, ‘Look, I don’t know if you guys have seen this. This is, you know, typical pro-life ministry. You’re gonna have people here that certainly don’t want to be arrested. That want to – you know – want to work with you guys or just – they’re trying to save babies. There are other people that might do a sit-in – that might want to be arrested.

Vaughn had a baby on the way…and so he had no intention of going to jail.

VAUGHN: I in no way sat at a door or risked anything that I thought would be illegal – and had police guidance on that subject.

And he says he went home peacefully that night after receiving a warning.

VAUGHN: I did not get arrested that day at all. I was never charged in the local court or for any crime. Like I said, I had a great relationship with police.

WORLD independently confirmed that there is no court record of officials arresting or charging Vaughn for the protest that day.

But in October of 2022 almost a year-and-a-half later all of that changed on a Friday morning when he heard the FBI pounding on the door of his home.

VAUGHN: I go to the door to look out the curtain to see who’s there and I seen guns drawn and pointed at me. And so I ask who they’re looking for. They say, “We’re looking for you!”

I look out the other window and my children are out there being held at bay by an agent with a long gun drawn in a low, ready-across-his-chest position.

Vaughn was handcuffed, arrested, and slapped with two federal charges: violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances–or FACE Act–a misdemeanor. And conspiracy against rights. That’s a felony.

President Bill Clinton signed the FACE Act into law in 19-94. The statute prohibits threats of force, property damage or obstruction meant to interfere with so-called reproductive health care services. In short, federal prosecutors say the protesters were blocking the entrance to the abortion facility…and intimidating clients.

As for the conspiracy charge the U.S. Justice Department says Vaughn’s interactions with police were part of a delay tactic to keep officers from clearing the scene.

CRAMPTON: It’s unprecedented.

That’s Steve Crampton, an attorney from the Thomas More Society who represents Vaughn. Crampton accuses the Biden administration of weaponizing the U.S. DOJ in an effort to intimidate pro-life demonstrators emboldened by the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

CRAMPTON: I have litigated FACE cases since its enactment in 1994. Never have we seen the number of prosecutions – especially of criminal prosecutions – that we’ve seen since the passage of – or the announcement of – the Dobbs decision in June 2022. The Biden administration far exceeds anything ever undertaken by even two terms of President Obama, of the Clinton White House term, of the Bush term – anything. No one’s ever seen it like this before. And certainly never the kicker of a conspiracy charge.

Crampton also says the Justice Department is singling out pro-life activists and applying stricter standards to them than it would other demonstrators.

CRAMPTON: Only the peaceful, non-violent sit-ins in front of abortion clinics deserve federal prosecution in this administration’s view. It’s just ridiculous what a double-standard we’re experiencing here.

For now Vaughn and the five other pro-lifers await a sentencing hearing scheduled for July 2nd. He admits that the maximum sentence of more than a decade in prison would have a devastating impact on his eleven children. But he trusts that God can use whatever happens for good.

VAUGHN: And if he wants me to have a jail ministry and I get to go share with people that are incarcerated, that have no hope, and I can bring the hope of Christ into the jail systems and minister to them and that’s what He wants, then I’m his obedient servant.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Travis Kircher.

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