The prison sentences of seven pro-life activists fuel the debate over the FACE Act: "It should never again be used to persecute peaceful pro-lifers"

Lauren Handy and Jonathan Darnel will spend years behind bars for blocking the entrance to an abortion clinic. Legislators and social organizations are demanding the law be repealed which was used to prosecute them.

Lauren Handy will spend almost five years in prison. William Goodman will spend just over two years and John Hinshaw will be there for just under two. These three convictions last week opened the series of sentencing of pro-life activists who were found guilty of violating the FACE Act late last year.

Specifically, the Department of Justice accused them of blocking the entrance to the Surgi-Clinic abortion clinic in Washington, D.C., in 2020. Handy, according to the DOJ, was one of the organizers of the "invasion." Protesters booked a fake appointment, went in, barricaded the clinic with chains and padlocks, and "(passively resisted) their anticipated arrests to prolong the blockade." Prosecutors also claim that they injured a nurse.

Martin Cannon's version of the incident is very different. The lawyer for the Thomas More Society, an NGO that assisted the defense, said, "There was only one thing around which Ms. Handy and her co-defendants were unified, and that was nonviolence. They conspired to be peaceful." 

"For her efforts to peacefully protect the lives of innocent preborn human beings, Ms. Handy deserves thanks, not a gut-wrenching prison sentence," Cannon added, mentioning the FACE Act, which he called unconstitutional: "[It] should never again be used to persecute peaceful pro-lifers."

"It is deeply disappointing that this Court did not see through the Department of Justice’s smoke and mirrors," said Steve Crampton, also of the Thomas More Society.

The lawyers promised to appeal the ruling. Even before hearing the sentence, they had assured that the process was plagued by irregularities. They claim the jurors couldn't be impartial as at least four made monthly donations to Planned Parenthood. They also cited evidence of misconduct by the doctor who runs the clinic, Cesare Santangelo, which was not admitted into evidence.

#RepealFACE

Four more sentences were added on Tuesday. Jonathan Darnel, the other organizer according to the DOJ, was sentenced to nearly three years behind bars. Herb Geraghty, Jean Marshall and Joan Bell received sentences of around two years.

Terrisa Bukovinac, founder of the anti-abortion organization Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), told The Christian Post, "The assessment by Judge Kollar-Kotelly that Herb used force or violence is a blatant lie born of her clear confirmation bias against anti-abortion people." 

Organizations like PAAU used the recent verdicts as momentum for their campaigns against the FACE Act. It claims that in addition to being unconstitutional, the law is used disproportionately against pro-life activists.

It has been used against pro-life protesters 100 times since it passed, compared to only three times to prosecute pro-choice protesters. What's more: "FACE has never been used in defense of a church even though they are included in the FACE Act."

Congressman Chip Roy also spoke out against the law approved in 1994 after learning of the sentences:

"The Biden administration is using the FACE Act to give pro-life activists and senior citizens lengthy prison terms for non-violent offenses and protests," said Senator Mike Lee, in a statement reported by The Daily Signal. "[At the same time] turning a blind eye to the violence, arson, and riots conducted on behalf of 'approved' leftist causes."

Lee and Roy introduced a bill to repeal the law late last year. Meanwhile, the DOJ promised to continue using the law to, in the words of Deputy Attorney General Kristen Clarke, "protect both patients seeking reproductive health services and providers of those services. We will hold accountable those who seek to interfere with access to reproductive health services in our country."