Pro-Life Protester Jailed in DC to Appeal, Seeks to Be Released Pending Sentencing

Lauren Handy, leader of a group of people convicted of conspiring to obstruct access to an abortion clinic in Washington, vows to appeal the federal conviction. She is also seeking release from pre-sentencing detention.
Pro-Life Protester Jailed in DC to Appeal, Seeks to Be Released Pending Sentencing
Left-wing pro-life protester Lauren Handy, the director of activism with Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, protests outside the Supreme Court in Washington on June 15, 2022.(Jackson Elliott/The Epoch Times)
Matthew Vadum

Pro-life activist Lauren Handy, who was convicted this week of conspiring to obstruct access to an abortion clinic in Washington, will appeal her conviction and is asking the court to release her from pre-sentencing detention, her lawyers say.

The government has until 10 a.m. on Aug. 31 to file its response to the request.

Ms. Handy and four co-defendants—Herb Geraghty of Pennsylvania, Heather Idoni of Michigan, William Goodman of Wisconsin, and John Hinshaw of New York—were convicted for their role in the action by a jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Aug. 29. All five were immediately taken into custody to be detained until sentencing, which could be months away.

Each defendant faces up to 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $350,000.

The defendants were indicted in 2022 for conspiring to obstruct access to the Washington Surgi-Clinic, which provides abortions, in October 2020. The indictment states that “it was the purpose of the conspiracy to create a blockade to stop the Clinic from providing, and patients from obtaining, reproductive health services.”

Some in the pro-life movement refer to this kind of direct-action tactic as a “rescue” because it may save an unborn human’s life.

Specifically, the defendants were convicted of “conspiracy against rights” and conspiracy under Section 248 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, which is part of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act.

The FACE Act has been criticized by federal lawmakers, including Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who has said the Biden administration enforces the law selectively.

Critics reject the “conspiracy against rights” charge because there is no constitutional right to an abortion, as the Supreme Court determined in June 2022. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the nation’s highest court reversed the 1973 Roe v. Wade precedent and returned the regulation of abortion to the states.

Two of Ms. Handy’s attorneys released a statement on Aug. 29.

“We are, of course, disappointed with the outcome,” said Martin Cannon, senior trial counsel at the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm.

“Ms. Handy has been condemned for her efforts to protect the lives of innocent preborn human beings. 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 the Thomas More Society, also criticized the verdict and the treatment Ms. Handy received.

“In an unexpected twist, the Court found that because the violation of FACE—in this case—was a crime of ‘violence,’ all five defendants must be immediately incarcerated. So, the defendants were led out of the courtroom by an army of U.S. Marshals. This is an outrage, and the one thing the defendants had really agreed upon was to remain non-violent.

“The real violence is what happens during the abortion procedure.”

Ms. Handy’s attorneys filed an emergency motion (pdf) on the morning of Aug. 30 that asks the court to reconsider its order detaining Ms. Handy while she awaits sentencing.

“Defendant is entitled to such emergency reconsideration because, under federal statute and binding precedents from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (‘FACE’) Act is not categorically a ‘crime of violence,’ and thus pre-sentencing detention is governed under the more lenient provisions of 18 U.S.C. [Section] 3143(a)(1), not those of [Section] 3143(a)(2),” the new, eight-page motion states.

Mr. Cannon previously told The Epoch Times that FACE makes it a crime to use force, threats, or physical obstruction to intimidate, cause injury, or interfere with a person providing or obtaining reproductive health services.

“What the [U.S. Department of Justice] missed is that Lauren was not doing this because of reproductive health services. She saw a video of this very same doctor at this very same clinic, pretty implicitly acknowledging that babies are getting born alive in his clinic. And if they do, he will just leave them alone to die.

“That is not legal. There’s no available argument that a living baby at any gestational age outside the womb is a pregnancy,“ he said at the time. ”And when the baby winds up outside the womb, he goes from a place of no protection into a place of protection, as the procedure from that point out, whatever happens to him is outside of the FACE Act. And he gets all the same protections that a 4-year-old kid would get.”

Ms. Handy is “entitled to defend those babies just like she could defend a 4-year-old getting dragged in someplace and killed or neglected or whatever.”

“She didn’t violate the other provisions of FACE, either. She never used force. She never used threats. She never used physical obstruction. She didn’t injure. She didn’t intimidate. She didn’t interfere,” Mr. Cannon said.

Ms. Handy is the director of activism for Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, which describes its mission as mobilizing “grassroots anti-abortion activists for direct action and [to] educate on the exploitative influence of the Abortion Industrial Complex through an anti-capitalist lens.”

After being sentenced to jail time on a separate charge in July 2022, Ms. Handy said, “As a Catholic and progressive myself, I am compelled by my deeply held beliefs (religious and political) to put my body between the oppressed and the oppressor.”

The federal judge in the current case, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who was appointed in 1997 by President Bill Clinton, imposed numerous restrictions during the trial that limited the defenses available to the defendants. She ruled early on Aug. 30 that the government must respond to Ms. Handy’s emergency motion by 5 p.m. on that day.

The judge wrote that the defendant, Mr. Goodman, had already joined the motion and that she “presumes” that the defendants, Mr. Hinshaw, Ms. Idoni, and Mr. Geraghty, would also join the motion.

But around the close of business on Aug. 30, the judge extended the deadline, giving the government until the next day to respond to the motion.

“The Government shall file its opposition on or before August 31, 2023, at 10:00 AM ET. Defendants may file their reply(ies) on or before August 31, 2023, at 1:30 PM ET,” she wrote.

In a statement provided to The Epoch Times late on Aug. 30, Mr. Cannon said Ms. Handy attended the clinic “to prevent these horrific live-birth abortions, which does not violate the FACE Act.”

“However, she has become a victim of the merciless drive by Biden’s Department of Justice to prosecute those who are trying to protect preborn human beings. To add to that injustice, she was incarcerated when the true violence continues to be committed against innocent children.”

He noted that Ms. Handy founded Mercy Missions in 2017. The mutual aid organization assists families and mothers in crisis pregnancies and provides relief for the homeless.

“Clearly, Ms. Handy does not pose a danger to the safety of any person or the community and is not a flight risk,” he said. “Therefore, she should be released immediately.”

Another defendant said to have been involved in the action at the clinic, Jay Smith of New York, accepted a plea deal. On Aug. 7, he was sentenced to 10 months of incarceration to be followed by 36 months of supervised release, court records indicate.

Four other co-defendants alleged to have been involved in the action at the clinic—Jonathan Darnel of Virginia, Joan Andrews Bell of New Jersey, and Paulette Harlow and Jean Marshall of Massachusetts—are scheduled to be tried on Sept. 6.

Representatives of the U.S. Department of Justice, which is handling the prosecution, didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.