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Prosecuting pro-life advocates


WORLD Radio - Prosecuting pro-life advocates

Paul Vaughn receives a felony conviction for non-violent protesting

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

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: prosecuting pro-life.

It was about three years ago when a man from Tennessee named Paul Vaughn took part in a peaceful pro-life demonstration. The FBI got involved because the demonstration was outside an abortion business. He was arrested on charges that could have cost him ten years prison. Last week, a federal judge sentenced him.

Here is WORLD’s Travis Kircher.

AUDIO: Holy, Holy, Holy

TRAVIS KIRCHER: On March 5th, 2021, nearly two dozen pro-life demonstrators lined the hallways outside the Carafem Health Center office in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, just east of Nashville. They sang hymns and prayed.

An officer with the Mount Juliet Police Department warned them to leave. Audio here courtesy of a Facebook livestream taken by one of the demonstrators.

OFFICER: Hey guys we need you guys to disperse outside, okay? This is your last warning. I need everybody to step outside and go to the sidewalk…

But some of them weren’t going anywhere. The recording reveals they planned to engage in civil disobedience…remaining in the hallway until they were peacefully taken into custody. Even going as far as to discuss the most comfortable way to sit handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser.

But one demonstrator claims he had no intention of being arrested. Paul Vaughn says unlike most of the other protesters…he was a Tennessee resident, and his wife was expecting their 11th child. So instead of staying in front of the door of the abortion facility…he agreed to fall back and coordinate with police.

Earlier this year, he spoke with WORLD about his motivations:

PAUL VAUGHN: I just wanted to get a pulse and see where the police were. Make sure nobody's gonna come, you know, Barney Fife down the hallway and get somebody hurt or something. In no way sat at a door or risked anything that would be illegal, and had police guidance on that subject.

Eight adults and four minors who refused to leave were charged with misdemeanors, ranging from trespassing to disorderly conduct. Vaughn was not arrested. He went home…and didn’t hear from law enforcement again until 19 months later in October of 2022. And this time…it was the FBI.

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

Vaughn and several others were arrested on two federal charges in connection with that demonstration. The first: Violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act…or FACE Act, a misdemeanor. And second: conspiracy against rights. That’s a felony. According to attorney Steve Crampton who represents Vaughn…this was one of the first times pro-life advocates had been charged with a federal felony for a non-violent protest. Together…the two charges carried a maximum penalty of more than a decade in prison.

Vaughn was charged with conspiracy despite the fact that he agreed to leave when police asked. According to the indictment, that’s because of a statement made by one of the demonstrators on the live stream, indicating that Vaughn was engaging the police in order to buy time for the demonstrators.

Crampton says…that’s inaccurate.

STEVE CRAMPTON: As Paul candidly told the court, ‘Look, I’m against abortion. I would like to see a delay in arrests because it may save another baby’s life. But that was not my motivation in communicating with the police.’

In fact…during the trial, local police praised Vaughn’s actions that day.

CRAMPTON: Again, Paul did not block anybody. We had extraordinary testimony from the chief police negotiator who loved Paul, said Paul was extraordinarily helpful to the police in resolving this thing peacefully.

But a jury didn’t buy it…and in January, Vaughn, along with five others, was convicted of both charges. Last week, he faced a sentencing hearing. The Justice Department was asking for one year in prison.

Vaughn is a small business owner in Centerville, Tennessee…about 60 miles southwest of Nashville.

CRAMPTON: Paul starts a business that provides internet service to folks that the bigwigs won’t touch because it’s not profitable.

Centerville residents submitted nearly three-dozen letters supporting Vaughn and asking the judge for leniency…citing what they said were Vaughn’s selfless acts for his community. Crampton even used the classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a defense.

CRAMPTON: So I made the analogy in the sentencing hearing – look, Paul Vaughn is like the George Bailey of Centerville, Tennessee, and this whole five-county area. And here’s the DOJ like Mr. Potter wanting to take him away from the folks that really need him. I told the judge, ‘Don’t jail George Bailey.’

In the end…U.S. District Judge Alita Trauger sentenced Vaughn to three years supervised release, effectively avoiding prison time. But Crampton says three years supervised release is not an easy sentence. Six months of that time is spent in home detention….

CRAMPTON: He can’t even leave his property. He can’t go to a grocery store without prior permission from the federal government.

And then there’s the matter of the constitutional rights he lost when he became a convicted felon.

CRAMPTON: One, he loses his passport. That’s pretty big. Two, he can’t vote, right? He’s a convicted felon. I mean, that’s extraordinary. 

Crampton says he hopes to have those rights restored by getting Vaughn’s conviction overturned in an upcoming appeal…not only challenging Vaughn’s verdict…but the constitutionality of the FACE Act itself.

CRAMPTON: We will continue to fight it and really, we think there are issues here that may end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Travis Kircher.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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