The FBI has targeted peaceful pro-life protesters for arrest, using heavy-handed tactics that should shock the conscience of every freedom-loving American.
In one such case, about twenty armed FBI agents conducted a dawn raid on September 23rd at the home of a pro-life advocate, Mark Houck, who is the father of seven children. Mr. Houck is being charged with violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (the FACE Act) outside of a Pennsylvania abortion facility in October 2021. FACE Act violations carry a prison term of up to eleven years. The Thomas More Society is defending Mr. Houck in court.
Thomas More Society’s Vice President and Senior Counsel Peter Breen said that the Biden Department of Justice had rejected Mr. Houck’s offer to appear in court voluntarily to answer the charges. Instead, the Department of Justice dispatched the FBI’s storm agents to Mr. Houck’s home to arrest him at gunpoint.
“Rather than accepting Mark Houck’s offer to appear voluntarily, the Biden Department of Justice chose to make a show of potentially deadly force, sending twenty heavily armed federal agents to the Houck residence at dawn,” Mr. Breen said. “In threatening form, after nearly breaking down the family’s front door, at least five agents pointed guns at Mark and arrested him in front of his wife and seven young children, who were terrified that their husband and father would be shot dead before their eyes.”
The incident leading to Mr. Houck’s arrest occurred during the course of Mr. Houck’s presence outside of an abortion clinic to pray and offer pro-life counseling support to women considering an abortion. He was accompanied by his 12-year-old son. An overly aggressive pro-abortion activist, who was serving as an escort for women seeking to enter the abortion facility, targeted the boy repeatedly with “vulgar verbal attacks,” according to the Thomas More Society.
Mr. Houck did what any good dad would do. He defended his son. First, he repeatedly asked the pro-abortion activist to stop the abuse. Only after the pro-abortion activist ignored Mr. Houck’s calls to back off did the father shove the activist away from his son’s face. The pro-abortionist clearly instigated the altercation and refused to stop harassing Mr. Houck’s 12-year-old boy despite being repeatedly asked to do so.
The Biden Department of Justice never should have brought a federal case against Mr. Houck in the first place. Mr. Houck did not shove the pro-abortion activist away from his son for the purpose of interfering with the activist’s provision of reproductive health services. Mr. Houck’s shove occurred solely in defense of his son after his attempts to de-escalate the tense situation failed to stop the pro-abortionist’s harassment.
The Biden Department of Justice ignored a highly relevant 2019 decision by a federal district court in Pennsylvania that limited the scope of a legally defensible charge of a FACE Act violation. Federal District Court Judge Chad F. Kenney ruled that a peaceful pro-life advocate had a First Amendment right to provide witness and sidewalk counseling outside an abortion facility.
Judge Kenney also played down the significance, for FACE Act purposes, of the alleged use of force that arose out of “a mutual argument” regarding how the defendant was exercising what he believed to be his constitutional rights. The opinion stated that “the Court does not find that Plaintiff has shown a reasonable probability of eventual success in proving that Defendant Sulpizio violated FACE by using force to intentionally injure or intimidate or attempt to injure or intimidate a person because that person is providing reproductive health services.”
The same finding should apply to Mr. Houck. He did not shove the pro-abortion activist because the activist was providing reproductive health services. Mr. Houck acted solely in defense of his son who was being harassed by the pro-abortionist.
Moreover, the pro-abortion activist’s attempt to have Mr. Houck charged at the state level with assault and battery because Mr. Houck shoved the pro-abortionist away from his son went nowhere. The authorities did not press charges. When the pro-abortionist tried to bring the charges himself, his case was thrown out of court.
In short, the Biden Department of Justice ignored both the law and the facts in Mr. Houck’s case and ran roughshod over his civil liberties. The only reason for the FBI to haul Mr. Houck away at gunpoint in a dawn raid at his home was to send an intimidating message to other peaceful pro-life protesters to remain silent or else.
The Biden administration’s egregious abuse of power against Mr. Houck is not simply a one-off case. On October 5th, armed FBI agents arrested Paul Vaughn, President of Tennessee Personhood, at his home. The Thomas More Society is defending Mr. Vaughn against spurious charges of “conspiracy against rights secured by the FACE Act.” The charges are focused on an alleged blockade at an abortion clinic’s entry doors, including allegedly preventing a patient and an employee from entering.
According to the Thomas More Society, Mr. Vaughn was recording a protest by pro-life advocates “sitting in a hallway outside of the abortion clinic singing Christian hymns, reading scripture, and praying.” Mr. Vaughn was also “serving as a liaison between life advocates and the police to ensure the safety of all involved. No one was hurt, and no property was damaged during the pro-life witness.”
Even if there were acts of civil disobedience at the protest, since when does engaging peacefully in such acts, much less simply recording them, justify the punishment that is possible under the FACE Act – 11 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000?
The Biden administration is weaponizing the FBI to go after the administration’s opponents, including peaceful pro-life protesters. The Biden Department of Justice does not even make a pretense of applying the law in an even-handed fashion. We have yet to see them display a mere fraction of the zeal that it has shown in persecuting pro-life advocates when it comes to pursuing the pro-abortion militants who have firebombed and vandalized pro-life pregnancy resource centers.