Pro-Life Activists Face Prison Time As DOJ Increases FACE Act Prosecutions
Authored by Beth Brelje via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),
Holding bullhorns and sometimes graphic signs depicting aborted babies, sidewalk ministers around the United States have seconds to reach the hearts of pregnant women moments before they walk into abortion facilities.
“We had one mother who came up to me on the sidewalk. She saw some signs of ours, stopped, and said, ‘Is that real?’ It was a photo of a baby that had been aborted,” Denny Green, 56, of Cumberland, Virginia, told The Epoch Times. “We let her know, ‘Yeah, that is real.’ She said, ‘If that’s real, I can’t do that to my baby,’ and she decided not to take her baby’s life.”
Green said the group followed up with the woman, helping with food and other needs but eventually lost contact, until five years later.
“She saw us out on the street again, stopped and let us meet her little girl,” he said. “That has happened numerous times. We’re there for the long haul, if they need us, as a friend or as a help. We’re there to walk with them.”
Green is among 11 people federally charged with the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act for a March 2021 pro-life demonstration at a now-closed abortion facility in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. The FACE Act prohibits interference with obtaining or providing abortions.
In this case, the abortion facility was inside a larger medical building that had other, unrelated medical offices. Some of those charged stood in the hallway, blocking the door, while others stood down the hall, closer to an elevator. They sang Christian songs, prayed, and spoke to women seeking to enter the facility, which is shown in a video captured by one of the group members.
“Sir, that baby is a blessing from God,” one of the 11 told a couple who walked toward the abortion facility door, saw the people in the hallway, then got back on the elevator.
“Yeah. More power to you,” the man with the woman said as the elevator doors closed.
Local police arrested some members of the group and charged them with trespassing. Once the trespassing charges were handled, those arrested thought the incident was behind them. But 19 months later, in October 2022, they were charged by the FBI.
By this time, the abortion facility was closed due to a change in Tennessee law that now bans abortion after a baby’s heartbeat is detected.
The landscape on the frontline of abortion is changing.
While sidewalk counselors preach, most often from the sidewalk, abortion facilities have volunteer escorts to walk women from their cars to the facility doors. The escorts sometimes try to drown out the voices of preachers and counselors by blowing whistles, running loud leaf blowers, or screaming vulgarities at them.
Shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, President Joe Biden issued an executive order for his administration to address “the heightened risk related to seeking and providing reproductive health care.” He formed the Reproductive Rights Task Force, a Justice Department-led group focused, in part, on enforcing the FACE Act.
Passed in 1994, the FACE Act chilled some pro-life activity at abortion facilities. Starting in the late 1980s, thousands of pro-life activists willing to face low-level trespassing charges used to hold sit-ins, pray, and carry signs at abortion facilities around the country. But after the fatal shootings of two abortionists and three facility workers in the early 1990s, the FACE Act—which calls for federal prison and fines—was implemented. Fewer people were willing to risk federal charges and left the movement.
Still, some pro-life activists are willing to risk their freedom to save babies headed for death.
Now, the Biden administration is cracking down on them. In the 10 years between 2011 and 2021, the Department of Justice criminally charged 17 people with FACE Act violations, according to the DOJ website. In 2022 alone, the DOJ charged 26 people. The Epoch Times requested comment from the DOJ.
Paul Vaughn, a father of 11 in Centerville, Tennessee, was preparing to take his children to school on Oct. 5, 2022, when the FBI pounded on his door with their guns drawn, terrifying the children, he said. FBI agents put him in handcuffs, drove him to Nashville, put him in a holding cell, and charged him with violating the FACE Act and with conspiracy to violate civil rights for his participation in the Tennessee event.
By 2 p.m., he said, they released him onto the streets of Nashville with no phone or wallet to find his way home and with a new list of pretrial restrictions to follow, such as where he was allowed to travel.
In addition to there being more FACE Act arrests recently, the penalties are higher. Vaughn faces 11 years in federal prison because of the added conspiracy charge.
“I’ve got an 18-month-old at home and several other children that will spend a good part of their developing years without dad at home, if I end up going to prison for an extended time,” Vaughn told The Epoch Times.
He said he and his wife have cried and prayed about the situation many times.
“God is in control,” he said. “He knows the beginning from the end. My children will see their dad at least had the courage to stand for what’s right.”
There are two federal conspiracy statutes for these kinds of cases, Stephen Crampton, Vaughn’s attorney and senior counsel at the Thomas More Society, told The Epoch Times. One requires that, for a conspiracy violation, the penalty cannot be greater than the penalty for the underlying crime.
“In this case, a first offense, nonviolent FACE violation, you only have a misdemeanor charge, up to one year in prison. So if they were to use that particular generic conspiracy statute, all they could get for the conspiracy part is another one year,” Crampton said, stressing that this is the first time he recalls a conspiracy charge in connection to a FACE charge.
“They dug deep in their little bag of tricks and found the conspiracy to Violate Civil Rights statute and charged us with that one, which carries a sentence up to 10 years,” Crampton said. “What was the civil right we were talking about with FACE? It was abortion. So now they’re going to pretend that the civil rights they’re dealing with, is the right to access to so-called reproductive health care. … Civil rights was always abortion, not the right to go in and get a pregnancy test. Nobody in the pro-life movement is going to engage in concerted activities to prohibit that action. So there’s all these little white lies that they’re using to try to throw the book at Paul and other folks since Roe v. Wade has been overturned.”
The conspiracy charge that some in this case face stems from using Facebook to communicate about meeting and live-streaming the group standing in the hallway.
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