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The FACE Act Is a Fiasco…

The FACE Act Is a Fiasco…

A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: The FACE Act is fatally, irreparably flawed and ought to be repealed, as Republicans in Congress are trying to do.

Two years ago, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed that the Biden Justice Department would “use every tool at our disposal to protect reproductive freedom.”

As tools go, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act — better known as the FACE Act — is more in the vein of a bulldozer than a screwdriver. The Biden administration, outraged over the 2022 Dobbs decision that overturned Roe, has been especially zealous in using it to ride roughshod over nonviolent pro-life activists.

The latest to suffer the wrath of what is, by far, the single most radical pro-abortion administration in U.S. history are participants in a pair of peaceful protests at abortion facilities in Washington, D.C., and Tennessee.

In the D.C. case, a group of pro-life activists were convicted last year of violating the FACE Act when they used chains, locks and their bodies to blockade the Washington Surgi-Clinic in 2020. During the incident, a nurse stumbled and sprained her ankle. The defendants were recently sentenced to federal prison terms ranging from 10 months to nearly five years.

The second group of now-convicted felons is scheduled to be sentenced on July 2. Their crime? Three years ago, they sang hymns and prayed in the hallways of an abortion facility outside Nashville. One of these prayerful singers, Paul Vaughn, was arrested at his house days later by the FBI in front of his wife and 11 children — as happened to Catholic sidewalk counselor Mark Houck in 2022. 

No legal expert can rationalize such an outrageous federal overreach with a straight face.

Signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, the FACE Act criminalizes the use of force, the threat of force, or physical obstruction to intimidate, harm or prevent someone from obtaining or providing “reproductive health services.”

The law came in response to a surge in violence by members of the domestic terrorist group Army of God and other radical opponents of legalized abortion. According to one tally, from 1977 until 1993, there were at least nine documented murders, 17 attempted murders, 406 death threats, 179 incidents of assault or battery, and five kidnappings committed against abortion providers. These were heinous acts that no Christian, let alone anyone who professes to be pro-life, can justify.

That context is important because it explains why President Clinton and the Democrat-controlled Congress at the time felt compelled to “do something.” Never mind that there were sufficient statutes already in place to prosecute such serious crimes.

Even so, the bill required some finessing to get enough Republicans on board to get it to Clinton’s desk. That was accomplished by broadening the act to criminalize the same behavior when directed at “any person lawfully exercising or seeking to exercise the First Amendment right of religious freedom at a place of religious worship.” The intentional damage or destruction to a place of worship or pregnancy-related facility (including pro-life pregnancy centers, incidentally) because of the facility’s purpose also became a federal crime under the act.

Despite that added language, few people believed then that the FACE Act was about anything other than abortion. That has been borne out by three decades of lopsided, politically driven enforcement. It’s worth noting that there are no comparable federal laws that pertain to threatening an oncologist, for example, or blocking access to a children’s hospital.

The FACE Act’s not-so-secret superpower is the way it turns garden-variety acts of peaceful protest, which would otherwise be covered by state and local trespassing and disorderly-persons codes, into federal felonies punishable by up to 10 1/2 years in prison and fines up to $260,000.

In Houck’s case, both the city police and the local district attorney declined to press charges following an altercation across the street from an entrance to a Philadelphia abortion facility between Houck and a clinic escort who allegedly was saying vulgar and abusive things to Houck’s then-12-year-old son. Houck pushed the man, who fell to the ground.

The case should have ended there. But nearly a year later, the Department of Justice charged Houck with criminal FACE Act felonies. The FBI descended on Houck’s home, guns drawn, arresting him in front of his terrified young children. Houck was later acquitted of all charges, but the DOJ had sent a chilling message to pro-lifers: You could be next.

The descriptors “weaponized” and “threat to democracy” are overused these days, but they aptly describe what a fiasco the FACE Act is. Its ideological underpinning is made obvious by the fact that its use waxes and wanes depending on which party is in power (the number of cases has tripled under Biden, compared to the Trump years, according to the DOJ). With rare exceptions over the past 30 years, it has been applied almost exclusively in cases against pro-life defendants, despite scores of violent pro-abortion attacks against Catholic churches and pro-life pregnancy centers under Biden’s watch. As the act’s critics rightly note, failure to enforce a law is itself unlawful.

In short, the FACE Act is fatally, irreparably flawed and ought to be repealed, as Republicans in Congress are trying to do. What’s more, it was never necessary in the first place. Abortion proponents will argue that it’s needed now more than ever, but why continue to grant the federal government such sweeping powers when abortion is no longer a federally protected constitutional “right”?

Those who threaten, assault, trespass and damage private property anywhere, including at abortion facilities, ought to be held accountable. But we don’t need the federal government and heavy-handed laws like the FACE Act to do that, subject to the whims and ideology of the current administration. In the spirit of Dobbs, these cases should be left to state and local governments to adjudicate.

May God bless you! 

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