Pro-life activist Paul Vaughn avoids prison time in sentence… | WORLD
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Pro-life activist Paul Vaughn avoids prison time in sentence for FACE Act conviction

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

Pro-life activist Paul Vaughn avoids prison time in sentence for FACE Act conviction

A Tennessee husband and pro-life father of 11 was sentenced to three years of supervised release on Tuesday in connection with a 2021 demonstration at an abortion facility. The sentence issued by U.S. District Judge  Aleta Trauger avoids prison time for Vaughn, who faced more than a decade behind bars.

The Thomas More Society, the legal firm that represents Vaughn, celebrated the outcome. In a released statement, the society pledged to seek to overturn his conviction and challenge the constitutionality of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act, which Vaughn was convicted of violating.

Vaughn said he rejoiced in God’s plans for the sentence he received from the court. He still looks forward to appealing the verdict. “Laws have to be grounded in truth; they have to align with the ultimate lawgiver, who is Christ our Lord,” he said.

Vaughn’s sentence comes five months after a federal jury in January convicted him and five other activists each of a misdemeanor charge of violating the FACE Act, as well as a felony charge of conspiracy against rights.

Six other demonstrators who showed up to the Carafem Health Center Clinic outside Nashville, Tenn., in early March were indicted and eventually convicted of similar charges. In addition to Vaughn, they include Chester Gallagher, Heather Idoni, Calvin Zastrow, Coleman Boyd, and Dennis Green. All six activists faced a maximum sentence of up to 10 ½ years in prison.

Vaughn’s account

A few things make Vaughn stand out from the other demonstrators. Of those who were convicted, Vaughn was only one of two who were Tennessee residents. The others were from out of state.

Secondly, Vaughn has insisted that his activism consisted solely of prayer, singing, and sidewalk counseling—trying to convince pregnant mothers walking into an abortion facility to choose life—as well as advising police on the intentions of the demonstrators who planned to be peacefully arrested.

But the U.S. Justice Department has maintained that the group conspired together to block women’s access to the abortion facility. Gallagher and Idoni used social media to organize the demonstration at the Tennessee facility and facilitate travel for themselves and Zastrow, Davis, and Green, according to the  U.S. Department of Justice. They planned to arrive at the abortion center before it opened and begin live-streaming their activities, which included blocking the entrance to the clinic, according to the DOJ.

The abortion center was located inside a medical building containing several other tenants. Vaughn said he and members of his counseling team gathered in the hallway outside the abortion facility to sing hymns and talk to women before they went in. Vaughn admits he was there, but he had no intention of blocking the door to the clinic or of getting arrested. 

“I in no way sat at the door or risked anything that I thought would be illegal—and had police guidance on that subject,” he told WORLD earlier this year.

Gallagher announced on a video livestream that he intended to lead what the group characterized as a rescue and that anyone who didn’t plan on being arrested should not in any way block the entrance to the clinic.

Vaughn said that he decided to act as a go-between for the demonstrators and the police. While he had no plans to block the clinic himself, he tried to explain the demonstrators’ plans to the police and to ensure that arrests were peaceful, he said.

However, the Department of Justice accused Vaughn of negotiating with police as a “delay tactic” to keep officers from clearing the scene.

Why he demonstrated

Vaughn told WORLD in February that he almost didn’t attend the pro-life demonstration at the Carafem Health Center Clinic in March 2021. His wife was soon due to have their 11th child, but he ultimately chose to show up at the abortion facility just east of Nashville to champion the cause of life.

“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,” Vaughn said.

He wouldn’t always have felt that way. He says he was raised Christian but admits he drifted after his parents got divorced. He says he returned to the Christian faith in 1991 and got involved in a church where pro-life advocacy and sidewalk counseling to expectant mothers were priorities. As a result, he and his wife started attending pro-life demonstrations, even bringing their children along.

The arrest

At the 2021 protest, Vaughn said he stayed and worked with police and demonstrators while some of them were arrested and locally charged. Afterward, he went home to his family.

“I did not get arrested that day at all,” he told WORLD in February. “I was never charged in the local court for any crime. Like I said, I had a great relationship with police.”

But almost a year-and-a-half later, just after 7 a.m. on Friday in October 2022, Vaughn was arrested. He said he was preparing to take four of his children to a homeschool co-op when he heard banging on the door of his 1930s farmhouse. He saw flashing lights outside and heard “FBI! Open up!”

Vaughn said he was handcuffed and placed in a vehicle.


Vaughn and the others were convicted in January after a trial for a misdemeanor charge of violating the FACE Act and a federal charge of conspiracy against rights.

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.” The legislation also protects pro-life clinics and churches. It also bans the intentional damage or destruction of property used to provide “reproductive health services.”

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.”

Vaughn still denies blocking the doors or conspiring with the others to block the doors.

What’s next

Attorney Steve Crampton represents Vaughn. Crampton works for the Thomas More Society, a nonprofit public interest law firm that champions pro-life causes. He told WORLD earlier this year that 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.

Earlier this year, Vaughn told WORLD that any prison sentence—particularly the maximum sentence of more than 10 years—would have had a devastating impact on his wife and 11 children.

“But the grace of God is greater,” he said. “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.”

Dig deeper: Listen to Travis Kircher's interview with Paul Vaughn shortly after his conviction on The WORLD and Everything in It podcast.

Travis K. Kircher

Travis is the associate breaking news editor for WORLD.

An actual newsletter worth subscribing to instead of just a collection of links. —Adam

Sign up to receive The Sift email newsletter each weekday morning for the latest headlines from WORLD’s breaking news team.

Please wait while we load the latest comments...