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Persecuted Pro-Life Activist Files $4.3 Million Lawsuit Against DOJ

Mark Houck, a Catholic pro-life activist arrested in 2022 and acquitted in 2023, filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice.

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Last week, 22 senators issued a statement calling for an end to Democrats’ weaponization of the legal system, calling out “activist attorneys” and courts for targeting pro-life Americans. One particularly egregious case was that of Mark Houck, a Catholic pro-life activist arrested in 2022 and acquitted in 2023. Last month, he filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) for $4.3 million.

Houck’s arrest made national headlines when 20 heavily armed federal, state, and local law enforcement agents apprehended him on Sept. 23, 2022, at his home in Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, in front of his wife and seven children. Months earlier, he had agreed to turn himself in peacefully in response to federal charges.  

Houck was outside the Blackwell abortion facility in Philadelphia on Oct. 13, 2021, when he shoved a Planned Parenthood escort away from his 12-year-old son after repeated attempts to deter the man’s aggressive, verbal harassment. The incident, caught on camera, portrays Planned Parenthood volunteer Bruce Love walking down the street away from the facility’s entrance to intimidate and harass Houck and his son.

The local police and district attorney rejected Love’s attempts to bring Houck to court, and a lawsuit filed against Houck was dismissed by a Philadelphia municipal court. But the Department of Justice picked it up, indicting Houck on charges of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, threatening a maximum sentence of 11 years in prison. In January 2023, a jury acquitted Houck in under an hour.

Houck is a regular participant in pro-life 40 Days for Life campaigns and has partnered with the organization’s newly established in-house legal team, Institute of Law and Justice, to file the lawsuit.

The 40 Days for Life organization had previously relied on outside counsel to defend participants’ rights. But since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, it has been “overwhelming” law firms by seeking help as abortion proponents and law enforcement have attacked its supporters, according to Shawn Carney, 40 Days president and CEO.

A Win for All Pro-life Americans

Houck initially filed a notice of claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act, naming six police officers who assisted in the home raid. The claim accuses the Biden DOJ of “malicious prosecution, retaliatory prosecution, abuse of process, false arrest, assault, and intentional infliction of emotional distress committed by federal employees and agents against Mr. Houck, Mrs. Houck, and their children.” Filed November 2023, the claim has now passed the required six-month notice period and is an active lawsuit as of late last month.

Houck’s lawsuit has the potential to send a strong message to law enforcement across the country that pro-life advocates’ constitutional rights must be protected and abuses of power will carry legal consequences.

Matt Britton, 40 Days for Life general counsel, says most lower court cases do not get appealed due to lack of resources, so they are generally not reported. “Based on those that are appealed, the reported cases indicate to me that trial courts are more willing than they have been in the past to side with ideology over law,” he said.

Because Houck’s new case sidestepped the lower courts, moving directly to the federal level, it drew widespread national media coverage. Against the odds of the feds’ 95 percent conviction rate and a jury trial in Philadelphia, Houck and his legal team were confident in a win. Houck turned down a plea deal as he awaited trial, an agreement that would have nullified his ability to sue, and would have put “all pro-life Americans … at risk,” Carney said. “He has a very strong [suit].”

Escalating Aggression

Escalating aggression toward peaceful protesters has marked a turning point in pro-life activists’ relationship with federal law enforcement since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Carney said. Prior to the Dobbs v. Jackson ruling in 2022, a “strong working relationship with local and federal law enforcement” combined with 40 Days’ “great reputation for being peaceful” resulted in equitable and just protection for pro-lifers working with the organization.

“One of the first actions our local leaders are trained to do when they decide to lead a campaign in their city is to meet with local police to inform them to keep our volunteers safe,” Carney said. “We’ve worked well with the great men and women of the DOJ going back to Bush, Obama, Trump, and even the first year of Biden. After the overturning of Roe vs. Wade we saw a new target on our back and an apparent bigotry toward pro-life Americans from the DOJ.”

Houck’s arrest portrayed an unprecedented level of aggression against 40 Days participants, Carney said.

“I haven’t found a current or former DOJ employee who has ever heard of someone’s home being raided after they offered to turn themselves in,” Carney said. “It’s absurd and if it can happen to him it can happen to any American.”

“There seems to be a movement for lawyers and litigants to do and say almost anything to advance a case, cause or agenda,” Britton added. “In my view, federal, state and local governments and courts have taken a decidedly pro-abortion approach in the cases that they bring and prosecute.”

To date, the Institute of Law and Justice has won every case it has undertaken. It is currently managing about 35 active cases defending free speech and other legal rights of volunteers.

“Many who support abortion and disagree with us support our legal efforts to support free speech,” Carney said. “In the end, Americans don’t want to see citizens arrested or raided because they share their opinion in the public square. We all believe that we have a right to be right and a right to be wrong on any given issue.”


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