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Father counts the cost of pro-life activism

Paul Vaughn and others face a decade in prison

Paul Vaughn singing hymns with supporters outside the federal courthouse in Nashville after his trial Photo courtesy of The Thomas More Society

Father counts the cost of pro-life activism

As of last week, Paul Vaughn is a convicted felon.

The Tennessee husband and pro-life father of 11 did not expect federal charges for protesting at an abortion facility and counseling expectant mothers to choose life. But more than a year after participating in what he said was a peaceful demonstration, armed FBI agents showed up at the door of his home and placed him in handcuffs. And last Tuesday, a federal jury convicted Vaughn and five other activists of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, a misdemeanor, and conspiracy against rights, a felony.

All six of the activists face up to 10½ years in prison.

Vaughn said he knows what that maximum sentence under the FACE Act and the conspiracy charge could mean for his family: a decade’s absence from his children.

“But the grace of God is greater,” Vaughn told me. “And if He wants me to have a jail ministry and I get to share with people that are incarcerated, that have no hope . . . then I’m His obedient servant.”

“The least of these”

Vaughn was raised a Christian but says he drifted from the faith after his parents got a divorce. He says he returned to the Christian faith and the Church in 1991. He became involved in the pro-life movement around the same time. Vaughn has often brought his children along to pro-life demonstrations. He says his activism and sidewalk counseling became a natural extension of his faith in Christ.

“It’s real simple, quite honestly,” he said. “Jesus said, ‘When you did it to the least of these, you did it unto me.’ He said, ‘True religion is this: to visit the widow and orphan.’ Is there anyone more a widow than a single mom that is pregnant, that doesn’t have someone to take care of her, that doesn’t have someone to comfort her—to walk with her—and she feels her only option is to kill the unborn baby?”

Vaughn and his wife teamed up to counsel pregnant women from sidewalks outside abortion facilities.

“Not yelling and screaming at them, but offering home and shelter and clothing and whatever we can do to help,” he said.

In early March three years ago, Vaughn and other pro-life activists turned out at the Carafem Health Center Clinic, an abortion facility just east of Nashville.

The abortion center was located inside a medical building containing several other tenants. Vaughn remembers he and members of his counseling team were singing hymns in the hallway outside the abortion office and speaking with women who entered the center.

“They’d stop short,” he said. “They didn’t know what to think about Christians in a hallway singing. That was really unusual for them.”

But Vaughn denies that he personally blocked the entrance to the facility. Given that his wife was soon to deliver their 11th child, he “had no intention of sitting near a door or risking arrest for anything.”

Police arrived.

Vaughn said he tried to act as a negotiator between the activists and the officers. He said he told police most of the protesters would leave if given a warning.

“There are other people that might do a sit-in, … that might want to be arrested,” he said he told the officers.

Vaughn was not arrested that day. He left after receiving a warning, he said. WORLD independently confirmed through state courts and the Mount Juliet Police Department that there is no record of any state charges filed against him in connection with the incident.

“I was never charged in the local court for any crime. Like I said, I had a great relationship with the police,” he said.

The situation changed dramatically 17 months later–in October of 2022.

“We’re looking for you!”

Vaughn is soft-spoken as he calmly explains what happened next. It was just after 7 a.m. on a Friday morning. He was preparing to take four of his 11 children to a homeschool co-op they attended before meeting with officials in a nearby county in the hopes of expanding his internet business.

Vaughn said two of his children were already outside when he heard banging on the door of his 1930s farmhouse and someone yelling, “FBI! Open up!”

He said he could see flashing lights outside his window.

“I look at 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. … The banging continues 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 said he surrendered, and he was handcuffed and placed in a vehicle. At that point, his wife began recording video with her phone. 

“I asked, you know, under whose authority they’re arresting me,” Vaughn said. “The guy points to his Velcro FBI badge on his chest, puffs his chest out and says, ‘This is all the identification you’re gonna get!’”

The FACE Act

Vaughn soon learned that he was facing two federal charges stemming from the events of the March 2021 protest. One charge was violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, a misdemeanor.

Signed into law in 1994 by President Bill Clinton, the FACE Act prohibits anyone from “intentionally injuring, intimidating, or interfering with” a person who is attempting to obtain or provide “reproductive health services” by using “force, threat of force, or physical obstruction.” Pro-life clinics and churches are also protected by the legislation. It also bans the intentional damage or destruction of property used to provide “reproductive health services.”

Vaughn denies committing any of those offenses.

The second charge of conspiracy against rights is a felony. The U.S. Justice Department defines that as a case in which two or more people “agree to injure, threaten, or intimidate a person in the United States in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States or because of his or her having exercised such a right.”

A statement by the Justice Department accuses the six pro-lifers of engaging in a conspiracy to prevent patients from receiving abortions at the facility. Specifically, the agency says Vaughn and a co-defendant, Chester Gallagher, negotiated with police as part of a “delay tactic” to keep police from clearing the scene.

Attorney Steve Crampton represents Vaughn. Crampton works for the Thomas More Society, a nonprofit public interest law firm that champions pro-life causes. He said the decision to charge Vaughn with a federal crime was part of an effort by the Biden administration to intimidate pro-life activists emboldened by the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

“Paul and the others that have been charged and now convicted in Tennessee are meant to serve as examples,” he said. “It’s really a kind of a terrorism message to the rest of the pro-life world: Don’t you dare touch our sacred cow of abortion.”

He says there’s been an uptick in the number of prosecutions of pro-life activists by the Justice Department under the Biden administration.

“I have litigated FACE cases since its enactment in 1994,” he said. “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 anything like this before. And certainly not the kicker of a conspiracy charge. It’s unprecedented.”

Crampton says he plans to appeal the verdict.

No regrets

For now, Vaughn and four of the other five activists are free, pending their sentencing, currently scheduled for July. The remaining activist was already in custody on state charges stemming from a pro-life demonstration in Washington, D.C.

For his part, Vaughn said he has no regrets.

“I would walk exactly where God places me,” he said. “And I would do it again if that’s where He placed me.”

Travis K. Kircher

Travis is the associate breaking news editor for WORLD.

I so appreciate the fly-over picture, and the reminder of God’s faithful sovereignty. —Celina

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