When the Process is the Punishment
The pro-life cause has been rocky since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade was handed down over 50 years ago. After Roe, pro-life efforts primarily focused on making inroads where opportunities could be found: passing state laws that limited the circumstances under which doctors could provide abortions, assisting and supporting pregnancy resource clinics, and educating people through ministries and events like the annual March for Life.
But the overturning of that decision last year in Dobbs has created serious waves in the battle for life. For the first time, pro-life proponents now have a historic opportunity to protect preborn children through the mechanism of state laws. But the response from some pro-abortion activists has been severe, including incidents of vandalism, bomb threats, fires, and other acts against pregnancy resource clinics and churches.
Selective Enforcement of the FACE Act
In 1994, Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. Most people who have heard of the law perceive it as one that protects the ability of abortion clinic patients to access abortion clinics. This is accurate, but only partially. The FACE Act does not just protect abortion clinics but makes it a crime to
[render] impassable ingress to or egress from a facility that provides reproductive health services or to or from a place of religious worship, or rendering passage to or from such a facility or place of religious worship unreasonably difficult or hazardous.
In other words, it protects not just abortion clinics but pregnancy resource clinics and churches. The Act understandably received bipartisan support when it passed, based upon the belief that no one should fear for their safety when exercising their right to access a clinic or a house of worship.
But the law is only neutral if it is enforced neutrally, which does not seem to be the case. Since the Dobbs opinion leaked last May, over 200 incidents of vandalism or other attacks, such as arson, have occurred against pregnancy clinics, pro-life organizations, and churches. To date, the FBI has only brought two cases against individuals who have attacked churches and pro-life pregnancy clinics. Moreover, it seems to have stepped up enforcement of the FACE Act against pro-life individuals.
Revisiting the Case of Mark Houck
In contrast to the tepid response of the FBI to these attacks by pro-abortion organizations – who loudly proclaim their illegal activities – the FBI is aggressively going after pro-life proponents.
In September of last year, as we wrote about earlier, the home of Mark Houck, a Catholic father of seven, was subjected to a raid by a SWAT team of over 20 FBI officers with guns drawn while his children and wife looked on in terror. His crime? Supposedly violating the FACE Act. Mr. Houck faced up to 11 years in prison and up to $350,000 in fines if convicted. But, thanks be to God, at the end of January, a federal jury acquitted him of all charges after only one hour of deliberation.
Although Mr. Houck’s story has a happy ending, the case illustrates how even innocence can be punished if the government uses intimidation tactics to advance a political goal. In this case, the goal seems to be to discourage pro-life activists from standing up for their beliefs. That claim may sound a bit over the top, but the facts of the case, and the jury’s ultimate verdict, make it fairly evident that the case had no legs from the get-go. The fact that the Department of Justice pursued the case in light of its feeble validity suggests that the prosecution was either incompetent – which is itself not a good sign – or politically motivated.
Here are the facts. For several years, Mr. Houck regularly traveled to Philadelphia to engage in sidewalk counseling outside a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic. He occasionally brought his young son, who was 12 at the time of the purported crime. The case arose when a volunteer abortion clinic “escort” decided to harass Mr. Houck’s young son. The man repeatedly confronted the boy, who showed obvious signs of being scared, by getting in his face and voicing crude and vulgar insults about his father. Understandably, Mr. Houck told the man to stop, but he persisted. Ultimately, Mr. Houck pushed the man away from his son, and the man fell.
Local authorities investigated the incident and concluded that there was no case against Mr. Houck. But one year later, the DOJ got involved. And even though Mr. Houck’s attorneys had already indicated to authorities that he would cooperate with any investigation, the FBI conducted their early morning raid.
The trial took little time. In addition to recounting how the incident actually occurred, Mr. Houck’s attorneys pointed out that the FACE Act does not protect volunteer escorts – only patients and clinic service providers. In addition, Planned Parenthood guidelines for volunteer escorts expressly forbid escorts from engaging with protestors. The escort in question had already been the subject of discussion by the local CEO of Planned Parenthood, who wanted to remove him from the escort rotation for repeatedly violating their guidelines. Given all the facts, the jurors quickly returned a “Not Guilty” verdict in the trial.
Mr. Houck was thankfully represented pro bono by attorneys from the Thomas More Society. As a result, despite the negative impact this episode has had on his life and the lives of his family, hopefully, it will not cause economic hardship to his family in the form of attorney fees. But there is a saying that “the process is the punishment.” In this case, it cannot truly be said that “all’s well that ends well” when young children have seen their father arrested at gunpoint and marched out the door in handcuffs without being allowed to get dressed in street clothing.
How many other pro-life activists can endure such an ordeal without jeopardizing their livelihoods? How many people will be willing to expose themselves to this kind of harassment simply for expressing their deeply held beliefs? If this sounds overly dramatic, bear in mind that this is not the first time that the FBI has arrested several other pro-life activists in a similarly aggressive way.
Fight Back and Support Pro-Life Efforts
At ProLife Doc, we know firsthand how aggressive pro-abortion activists are and how unpleasant it can be to receive threats and face intimidation. But if we are afraid to stand up for what is patently, manifestly right, moral, and good, how can we call ourselves children of God? But as the Mark Houck case shows, it is not just pro-abortion activists attempting to gag us, but our government in the form of the Department of Justice itself, in its selective enforcement of the FACE Act.
Mr. Houck does not and should not stand alone. Although the pro-life movement gets short shrift in terms of positive publicity, we know that our numbers are large and growing daily. We represent a force that cannot fail because God is on our side, so take heart!
Through our ministry, we hope to change the hearts and minds of the public and members of the medical profession who swore an oath to “do no harm.” As medical science advances in understanding how we can help the preborn overcome health challenges, we are confident that the cause of life will grow stronger.
To donate to the ProLife Doc ministry, to schedule Dr. William Lile as a speaker for your event, or to subscribe to our newsletter, please get in touch with us today.