Five pro-life activists were found guilty Tuesday in a federal court for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, a Clinton-era law passed to stop sit-ins at abortion facilities. They were also charged and found guilty of one count of conspiracy to block the entrance to the Washington Surgi-Clinic in Washington, D.C.
The defendants, Lauren Handy, Will Goodman, John Hinshaw, Heather Idoni, and Herb Geraghty, were part of a group of pro-life activists who participated in an October 2020 rescue and protest at the Washington Surgi-Clinic, operated by the late-term abortionist Cesare Santangelo.
Handy’s lawyers at the Thomas More Society described the pro-life activists’ actions that day: “Some simply kneeled and prayed at Santangelo’s facility, some passed out pro-life literature and counseled abortion-minded women, and others roped and chained themselves together inside the facility.” The defendants could face up to 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and fines of up to $350,000.
In 2013, Live Action released footage of Santangelo stating he would deny medical care to babies born alive after a failed abortion. When Lauren Handy took the stand last week, she cited that video as the impetus for organizing the October 2020 rescue at Santangelo’s facility.
Handy told the jury: “My belief that was formed after watching the video was … if the fetus survived the abortion attempt, they were left to die” at Santangelo’s facility. It was outside this same D.C. facility that the bodies of 115 preborn babies were recovered in March of 2022. At least five of the babies were significantly larger — between 20 to 40 weeks gestational age, with one boy appearing nearly full term.
The charges of violating the FACE Act and conspiracy to do so come on the heels of other federal authorities using the law as “a weapon for federal law enforcement to unconstitutionally brandish against its political dissidents.” Last fall, the FBI used the FACE Act to terrorize and arrest pro-life Catholic father Mark Houck in front of his wife and children, even though the FACE Act was ultimately not applicable to his altercation outside a Planned Parenthood.
In closing arguments on Aug. 24, Handy’s counsel Martin Cannon argued that the defendant’s actions “doesn’t come close to violating FACE,” and furthermore, asked the jury to consider how it would even be possible to have a conspiracy to violate a law when you’re following your conscience and convictions:
“How do you have a conspiracy to violate FACE when the supposed organizers don’t even know what people are going to be doing? How do you have a conspiracy to violate FACE when everyone is told to just follow his conscience; when people are told to risk arrest or don’t risk arrest? It’s up to you.”
The pro-life group Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), of which Handy is a member, said on Twitter that their defense attorneys believe they have “strong grounds to appeal and feel optimistic that a higher court will later rule in their favor” and that they “may even go to the Supreme Court.”