A jury found five pro-life activists guilty of violating federal law in connection with a 2020 blockade of a Washington, D.C., abortion facility, and all of the defendants were taken into custody following the verdict.
The jury began deliberations on Friday and took a break on Monday before resuming deliberations on Tuesday, finding activists Lauren Handy, Heather Idoni, William Goodman, John Hinshaw and Herb Geraghty guilty of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act and conspiracy against “rights.”
Another group of activists — Joan Andrews Bell, Jonathan Darnel, Paulette Harlow, Jean Marshall and Jay Smith — will be tried next for their involvement with the same blockade.
Handy is the director of activism and mutual aid for the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), an organization that has repeatedly called for the repeal of the FACE Act. The organization also made headlines in March 2022 for recovering the remains of five full-term babies alongside 110 other human remains from the facility at the center of the trial.
In a Tuesday statement provided to The Christian Post, the Thomas More Society, a non-profit law firm representing Handy, indicated that it intends to appeal the decision. Martin Cannon, senior counsel at TMS, stated that he was “disappointed” with the outcome.
“Ms. Handy has been condemned for her efforts to protect the lives of innocent preborn human beings,” Cannon said. “We are preparing an appeal and will continue to defend those who fight for life against a Biden Department of Justice that seems intent on prosecuting those who decry abortion and present it as it is — the intentional killing of children in utero.”
Steve Crampton, senior counsel at TMS, revealed in a separate statement that U.S. Marshals led the defendants out of the courtroom and immediately incarcerated them because a FACE Act violation is considered a crime of “violence.” The attorney argued that the “real violence is what happens during the abortion procedure.”
The FACE Act was signed into law in 1994, making it a federal crime for activists to obstruct people from receiving abortions or reproductive health services.
One of Handy’s colleagues, PAAU Executive Director Caroline Taylor Smith, said in a separate statement to CP that the group is “devastated” but asserted that “rescue lives on.”
“The unborn have a right to be rescued,” Smith said. “Abortion is murder, and we are going to act like it, no matter the consequences, with solidarity and courage.”
Prosecutors argued that Handy was the leader of the blockade at the Washington Surgi-Clinic in October 2022. According to a trial brief, the defendants communicated about the blockade, which they called a “rescue,” by phone and social media, and some traveled from out of town to participate.
On the day of the blockade, Handy showed up for an appointment that she had made under the fake name “Hazel Jenkins.” After a clinic employee opened the door, several of the activists pushed their way into the facility, resulting in a nurse injuring her ankle. A few members of the group began moving furniture to block the door leading into the clinic, and some used chains, ropes and locks to form a human blockade. Those who did not remain in the clinic area stood in the hallway outside of the clinic entrance.
One woman who arrived for an appointment that day testified during the trial under a pseudonym that she climbed through a window in the reception area to evade the activists. As WUSA-9 reported on Aug. 17, another patient who testified the following day said that English is not her and her husband’s first language, and they didn’t fully understand what was happening.
Last week, Handy took the stand, explaining that an undercover video released by the pro-life group Live Action in 2013 motivated her to become an activist. The video appears to show Cesare Santangelo, the abortionist at the Washington-Surgi Clinic, admitting that he wouldn’t help an infant born alive after an abortion.
The PAAU activist testified that she believed the facility was engaged in criminal behavior, and that convinced her to take the actions she did in 2020. While Handy attempted to show the Live Action video in court, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly prohibited it, arguing that Santangelo’s words on the video had been misinterpreted.
According to federal prosecutors, the blockade lasted around three hours before the police removed the activists from the scene.
The prosecution of the five activists has drawn the ire of pro-life movement leaders.
“The extreme pro-abortion bias on display throughout this trial — for instance, donors to abortion giant Planned Parenthood permitted to serve on the jury — shows that they were never going to get a fair hearing in Judge Kollar-Kotelly’s court,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA Pro-Life America, wrote in a statement. “Wherever one stands on abortion, we should all be able to agree this is wrong and un-American.”
Penny Nance, president of the pro-life group Concerned Women for America, called the prosecution “malicious.”
“This conviction is blatant abuse of political power meant to intimidate pro-life voices,” Nance wrote. “It is an embarrassment to our judicial system. These five sincere pro-life protestors have been the target of a malicious prosecution by a U.S. Department of Justice who promotes a dangerous view of pro-life activists as criminals.”
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