Six anti-abortion activists were convicted this week of violating federal law for peacefully protesting outside an abortion clinic. They are now facing more than 10 years in prison for allegedly hindering patients’ ability to enter the facility and obtain an abortion — even though the Supreme Court has since determined there is no constitutional guarantee to the procedure.
A jury in Tennessee convicted Chester Gallagher, Paul Vaughn, Heather Idoni, Calvin Zastrow, Coleman Boyd, and Dennis Green for blockading the entrance of an abortion clinic three years ago when they took part in a sit-in, Fox News reported. They were charged under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or the FACE Act, a 1994 federal law that was passed to ensure people were able to enter abortion clinics unencumbered.
The law, in part, made it a federal offense to try to deter, injure, intimidate, or interfere with someone who is, was, or might soon be “obtaining or providing reproductive health services,” whether by force, threat of force, or physical obstruction.
The Thomas More Society, an anti-abortion public interest law firm that represented the defendants, described the protest as a “peaceful life-affirming gathering,” per ABC News.
“This was a peaceful demonstration by entirely peaceable citizens — filled with prayer, hymn-singing, and worship — oriented toward persuading expecting mothers not to abort their babies,” said Steve Crampton, one of the defense attorneys in the case.
One of the convicted defendants, Paul Vaughn, told Laura Ingraham on The Ingraham Angle that he was essentially found guilty of “talking with police officers and not getting arrested the day of the event. That makes you a felon in Joe Biden’s Department of Justice.”
Vaughn claimed the DOJ was essentially “criminalizing” Christian beliefs.
“It’s just an utterly ridiculous attempt at the DOJ to criminalize Christian beliefs and Christian actions in our culture,” he told the show’s host.
The FBI and DOJ have faced a slew of accusations related to their apparent politicization and persecution of people with certain beliefs through the targeting of peaceful protesters, as The Dallas Express has reported.
However, prosecutors saw the anti-abortion protest differently, accusing the participants of trying to deter women who were going to the clinic from obtaining the procedure through persuasive tactics and by blocking the entrance to the clinic, in violation of the FACE Act, reported ABC News. Prosecutors considered the protesters’ efforts to engage with the police merely a delay tactic.
Attorneys for the defendants argued the FACE Act should not have even been the basis of a charge since the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs said there is no federal guarantee to abortion, returning the question of restricting abortions back to the individual states.
“We never should have had a federal law that prohibits a peaceful sit-in like this to begin with,” Crampton told Ingraham.
“But after Dobbs, the whole purpose for a FACE Act, which was to support the so-called federal right to abortion, has disappeared. So, really, what you have now is the kind of lipstick on a pig calling them reproductive health services like birth control or ultrasound or something of that nature. But obviously, these people weren’t there to protest birth control. They were there for one reason, and it was abortion.”
“It was a peaceful undertaking, as you note. It was handled locally. They prosecuted locally. And a year and a half later, the Biden DOJ comes sweeping down after Dobbs had been announced and now throws the book at them and tags on to a misdemeanor crime, the FACE Act violation, the felony conspiracy charge that carries up to 10 years in prison. It’s absolutely outrageous,” he said.
Vaughn noted that the DOJ could have applied the conspiracy charge as a misdemeanor like the underlying FACE charge, claiming the agency chose to pursue felony conspiracy and expose the defendants to a possible 10-year prison sentence.
Ingraham compared the anti-abortion activists’ peaceful sit-in to the violence used against police officers during the 2020 George Floyd protests, remarking that these non-violent demonstrators seemed to be facing a harsher punishment.
Pro-abortion advocates like the National Abortion Federation report that there has been an increase in harassment and violence at abortion clinics since the states took over regulating abortion after Dobbs, claiming, “Clinics in protective states saw a disproportionate increase in violence and disruption.”
The sentencing hearings are to take place July 2, though appeals are expected, reported Blaze Media.