Trial of DC Pro-Life ‘Rescuers’ to Begin Aug. 9

Trial of DC Pro-Life ‘Rescuers’ to Begin Aug. 9
Demonstrators hold signs during a protest vigil sponsored by The Christian Defense Coalition and Priests for Life outside of the Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Carol Whitehill Moses Center on Jan. 17, 2019. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
Matthew Vadum

Several people accused of violating federal law by conspiring to obstruct access to an abortion clinic three years ago are going to trial in Washington on Aug. 9.

The defendants are charged with “conspiracy against rights” and conspiracy under section 248 of Title 18 of the United States Code, which is part of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act.

Section 248 states that it is “unlawful for a person to use force, the threat of force, or physical obstruction to intentionally injure or intimidate a person because he or she is or has been obtaining or providing reproductive health services,” according to a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) summary.
Lauren Handy of Virginia and nine other defendants were indicted in 2022 for conspiring to obstruct access to the Washington Surgi-Clinic, which provides abortions, in October 2020. The indictment, which was made public on Oct. 14, 2022, 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.”

The DOJ said the indictment stated that “as part of the conspiracy, [seven defendants] traveled to Washington, D.C., from various northeast and midwestern states, to participate in a clinic blockade” that was broadcast on Facebook. Eight of the defendants “forcefully entered the clinic and set about blockading two clinic doors using their bodies, furniture, chains, and ropes.”

Nine defendants allegedly violated the FACE Act “by using a physical obstruction to injure, intimidate and interfere with the clinic’s employees and a patient, because they were providing or obtaining reproductive health services.”

If convicted of the offenses, each of the defendants faces a maximum of 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $350,000, according to the department.

‘Between the Oppressed and the Oppressor’

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 other nine defendants are Jonathan Darnel of Virginia; John Hinshaw and Jay Smith of New York; Paulette Harlow and Jean Marshall of Massachusetts; Heather Idoni of Michigan; Joan Andrews Bell of New Jersey; William Goodman of Wisconsin; and Herb Geraghty of Pennsylvania.

Ms. Handy’s attorney, Martin A. Cannon, senior trial counsel at the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm, said one of the defendants, whom he does not represent, entered into a plea agreement and will be sentenced soon.

Court records indicate that the defendant, Mr. Smith, will be sentenced on Aug. 7 by the presiding judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. She was appointed in 1997 by then-President Bill Clinton.

A group of the defendants, including Ms. Handy, will be tried before a jury at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Aug. 9, Mr. Cannon told The Epoch Times.

The remaining defendants will be tried in September, he said.

‘A Lot of Overcharging’

The defendants are charged with violating the FACE Act, “which under the circumstances charged is a misdemeanor,” Mr. Cannon said.

“But interestingly enough, they are charged with conspiring to commit that misdemeanor, and the conspiracy if it’s proven is a felony, which is a lot of overcharging in my opinion.

“There’s another federal conspiracy statute that they could have charged under that makes the conspiracy no worse than the underlying charge. But if you’re pro-lifers, you don’t get that kind of prosecutorial consideration all the time. They just dogpile on you when they can.”

Mr. Cannon said he plans to offer “some rather disturbing exhibits, which are pictures of children recovered from that clinic.”

The judge will have “to make a ruling ahead of trial as to whether we’ll be able to offer those exhibits,” which the DOJ argues are irrelevant, he said.

Judge Rejected Motion to Dismiss That Cited Dobbs

Ms. Handy previously moved to dismiss the indictment for lack of jurisdiction, quoting the Supreme Court’s June 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which held that the U.S. Constitution does not confer a right to abortion.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly wrote that even though Dobbs has been interpreted to mean “no provision of the Constitution extends any right to reproductive health services ... the Court is uncertain that this is the case.”

But it appears that Ms. Handy’s “constitutional argument is predicated on the false legal premise” that the federal statute she is challenging “only regulates access to abortion,” Judge Kollar-Kotelly wrote in an order (pdf). In fact, the law “regulates a broad category of ‘reproductive health services,’ including, among other things, ‘counselling or referral services.’”

Both the majority and dissenting opinions in Dobbs focused only on the 14th Amendment and the unratified Equal Rights Amendment, so “it is entirely possible that the Court might have held in Dobbs that some other provision of the Constitution provided a right to access reproductive services had that issue been raised. However, it was not raised,” the judge wrote.

Scholars and one federal appeals court decision suggest that the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, “might contain some right to access to such services,” she wrote.

Some scholars have argued that the amendment also applies to “compulsory pregnancy,” which they deem a form of servitude.

At the court’s direction, both sides filed briefs on whether the Dobbs ruling is limited to 14th Amendment grounds.

In a memorandum opinion on July 25, Judge Kollar-Kotelly denied Ms. Handy’s motion.

The defendant argued that Dobbs “precludes application of the charged statutes to violent or obstructive conduct in or around a reproductive health clinic,” the judge wrote, but the Dobbs ruling “does not sweep so broadly.”

Mr. Cannon said he wasn’t surprised by the ruling.

“It was a fair question, actually, because it had been raised,” he said.

“Somebody had mentioned the 13th Amendment, so she had an interesting question that we addressed, and ... in the context of denying our motion to dismiss, she would have considered that argument.

“I don’t recall that she dealt with it in any serious way in her ruling. But that’s probably appropriate. It’s just not a serious question, actually. But it was proper for her to look into it.”

DOJ officials didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.