Americans Face Decades In Prison For Convincing Women Not To Have Abortions

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by Tyler Durden
Sunday, Mar 03, 2024 - 03:10 AM

Authored by Beth Brelje via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

Heather Idoni picked up a phone receiver and punched in her inmate number on a keypad to activate it through the visitation window at Grayson County Detention Center.

Paul Vaughn holds his youngest daughter alongside his wife Bethany Vaughn and 8 of their 11 children, in the backyard of their home in Centerville, Tenn., on Feb. 20, 2024. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

She had 15 minutes to talk before the sound was cut off without warning and her guests were told to leave.

In prison, every move an inmate makes is controlled. Ms. Idoni, 59, is getting used to that. She must, because she is facing more than 41 years in prison—the rest of her natural life.

Her sentence is expected to be the longest in the United States for someone charged with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, a 1994 law that prohibits interfering with anyone obtaining or providing “reproductive health services.” It was seldom used until the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization reversed Roe v. Wade in June 2022, which returned abortion regulation to the states.

Her crime: sitting near or in front of the doors of abortion clinics to give sidewalk counselors a few moments to talk to women before their abortion appointments and potentially change their minds. Nine women out of 10 give them the middle finger and keep walking, Ms. Idoni said. But some women do change their minds, and sidewalk counselors say the life of every baby saved is worth the risk.

But a decade or more in prison is an outcome Ms. Idoni and other abortion rescuers didn’t expect. In post-Roe America, pro-lifers have been served harsh, life-altering penalties.

I have young, young grandchildren,” Ms. Idoni told The Epoch Times. “They are not going to have any memory of me. It’s hard to think about. It is the most painful thing, being separated from my young grandchildren who are growing so fast, and I’m missing their lives.”

Before prison, Ms. Idoni owned a bookstore in Linden, Michigan. She is a mother of 16, including 10 orphaned boys she adopted from Ukraine.

In 2022, at least 26 pro-life activists were charged under the FACE Act, and many are now in prison or awaiting sentencing. Most were charged after June 2022, when President Joe Biden formed the Reproductive Rights Task Force, a Department of Justice-led group focused, in part, on enforcing the act. The DOJ did not respond to a request for comment.

Political watchers predict the emotional issue of abortion will be a top 2024 election topic in most races.

Civil Disobedience

Ms. Idoni was convicted in 2023, along with four other defendants in Washington, of a FACE Act offense and of felony conspiracy against rights.The group blocked the entrance to a late-term abortion business in 2020. The DOJ said the group entered the facility and blocked access using their bodies, furniture, chains, and ropes, then live-streamed their activity on social media. The DOJ considered live-streaming a felony conspiracy, which carries a 10-year penalty. The FACE violation adds another year. Sentencing is in May.

But after her trial in Washington, Ms. Idoni and five others were convicted for praying and singing hymns in the hallway of a now-closed abortion business in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. This will be considered a prior conviction and could add years to the sentence out of Washington. She awaits another trial for two FACE violations in Michigan.

Heather Idoni (2nd R) and other pro-life activists sit in front of an abortion facility door in Sterling Heights, Mich,, on Aug. 27, 2020. (Courtesy of Cal Zastrow)

“The Tennessee case highlights how absurd the situation has become, using FACE in that weaponized fashion against the pro-lifers who obviously are political opponents of this administration,” Stephen Crampton, senior counsel for the Thomas More Society, told The Epoch Times. “To throw in that 10-year federal conspiracy charge in a case that, if you’re just looking at it cold, is indistinguishable from a civil rights sit-in.”

Mr. Crampton is an attorney in the Tennessee case, which was tried in Nashville, where in 1960, black citizens engaged in civil disobedience by sitting at lunch counters to protest racial segregation.

There is a Civil Rights Museum in the middle of the public library right across the street from the courthouse—a big display, honoring as heroes those folks that engaged in sit-ins in Nashville and helped change the whole culture of the nation,” Mr. Crampton said.

“In the same breath, they make our [clients] martyrs because they engaged in a sit-in, not for advancing racial equality but for trying to save the life of an unborn child. ... If that’s not political, I don’t know how else to describe it.”

The abortion business affiliated with the Tennessee FACE charges was closed before the DOJ served any indictments because abortion is no longer legal in Tennessee.

No matter how one feels about abortion, Americans should care about what happens with the FACE Act, Mr. Crampton said.

A group of African Americans seated at lunch counter during a sit-in Nashville, Tenn., in 1960. (Library of Congress)

“The fact that the government has picked ... which causes to federalize and to maximize prison sentences for—today, it’s pro-lifers, but tomorrow, hey, maybe it’s Greenpeace, right? Maybe it’s the PETA folks with animal rights, and all of a sudden you’re facing 11 years in prison because they don’t like your cause,” Mr. Crampton said.

“Is this really something that we want our federal government doing?”

Repealing FACE

The FACE Act has been used 130 times against pro-life individuals, but it has only been used three times against pro-abortion protesters, a U.S. Senate aide told The Epoch Times on background.

“There’s certainly a disparity in how this is being enforced,” the aide said. “In the wake of the Dobbs decision being leaked, there are at least 108 Catholic churches and at least 78 pregnancy-resource centers that were attacked by pro-abortion protesters.

“But there were only three FACE Act cases opened in response to that. So it’s very clear, just on the numbers alone, that this is being enforced in a very political way, and that the DOJ is weaponizing it against pro-life individuals and ignoring it when it comes to pro-abortion individuals.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who is sponsoring legislation that would repeal the FACE Act, pointed to the fact that legal scholars have long questioned the act’s constitutionality. He said the Biden administration has recently used it as a tool to harass and prosecute pro-life activists. His House bill is called the Restoring the First Amendment and Right to Peaceful Civil Disobedience Act.

Pro-abortion extremist group Jane's Revenge leaves threats at Harbor Church in Olympia, Wash., on May 22, 2022 (Courtesy of Harbor Church)

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) has a companion bill in the House.

While there was interest when the Senate bill was introduced in October 2023, it has not had much momentum since then. The aide isn’t optimistic about the measure passing in the Senate.

“Without a Republican majority, there is just no way that that’s going to get through,” which means those imprisoned under the FACE Act may face long sentences, the aide said.

“They are suffering from the political fallout of this law that really shouldn’t exist in the first place, and that has absolutely been weaponized against one group and not another.”

FBI Raid

Mark Houck, a father of seven, was shocked the morning of Sept. 23, 2022, when a team of roughly 25 FBI agents pounded on his door, pointed guns at him and arrested him for an alleged FACE Act violation.

Mr. Houck was a long-time sidewalk counselor at a Philadelphia abortion business. He pushed a volunteer at that business after the man made vulgar comments to Mr. Houck’s son and wouldn’t stop. Although local police refused to bring charges in the case, the DOJ said the shove was a FACE violation. A jury disagreed and found Mr. Houck not guilty. For months before the verdict, however, he faced a potential prison term. Now he is running for a U.S. congressional seat in Pennsylvania.

We would not be running if that had not happened to me,” Mr. Houck told The Epoch Times. “That wasn’t my personal aspiration. But after the raid, and the government coming after me, and the government being weaponized against me, we decided that we want to run so that this doesn’t happen to anybody else.”

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