President Joe Biden’s Justice Department has been cracking down hard on pro-life activists who protest or pray outside Planned Parenthood clinics, including the prosecution of a Pennsylvania man named Mark Houck, who counsels women outside clinics against obtaining an abortion.
Unfortunately for Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland, however, Houck was just fully acquitted by a jury of his peers following a trial, the Daily Wire reported.
Ironically enough, while the Biden administration has sought to use this and other prosecutions to send a message of intimidation against pro-life activists, the message that the administration pushed too far in its targeting of said pro-life activists was the response from the jury.
Indictment, arrest, and what actually happened
In September 2022, the DOJ announced that Houck had been indicted for allegedly violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which makes it a federal felony crime to “use force with the intent to injure, intimidate, and interfere with anyone because that person is a provider of reproductive health care.”
Houck was alleged to have twice assaulted a pro-abortion “escort” outside the entrance of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia, and if convicted, would have faced up to 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $350,000.
Except, what the DOJ alleged and what actually happened were completely different things, as was revealed before and during Houck’s trial by jury this past week. The Daily Wire reported that the incident in question actually occurred in 2021 and state charges brought against Houck had been dismissed in court, only for the DOJ to then get involved roughly a year later with a massive FBI raid of dozens of armed agents who arrested Houck at his home in front of his wife and children.
What actually happened in that October 2021 incident, according to the Catholic News Agency, was that Houck and his then-12-year-old son were being incessantly harassed outside and away from the Planned Parenthood clinic while quietly praying and counseling women, and in two instances, contact was made between the elder Houck and the pro-abortion escort harassing them, identified as Bruce Love.
DOJ message to pro-life people: “Don’t mess with us”
“If he was truly a danger to the community, they wouldn’t have waited a year to prosecute,” Thomas More Society senior counsel Peter Breen, who represented Houck, said in a statement outside the courthouse in September 2022, according to Fox News. “Serious questions need to be asked of the attorney general. What was he thinking? Why did they do this obscene show of force against a peaceful pillar of the community?”
“This is a political prosecution,” he continued. “And what’s clear from the Department of Justice at its highest levels, which is directing this case, [is] that they are trying to send a message to pro-life and people of faith: ‘Don’t mess with us.’ They want to intimidate — they want to cause good people like Mark to stop praying and counseling at the abortion clinics of our country. And that’s not going to happen.”
“What in the world would possess the Department of Justice to send 20 or so heavily armed agents to this family’s home, violate the sanctity of that home, frighten the children and then drag their father away instead of allowing us to present him peacefully, which we had offered to do?” the attorney asked at that time.
Evidence presented to debunk prosecution’s case
During the recent trial, evidence was entered by the defense to show that the FACE Act was never intended to be used against pro-life activists, but rather — and according to the law’s main sponsor at the time it was debated and passed, former Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) — was specifically intended to only ever be used to defend patients and clinic staffers from assault or intimidation.
“The FACE Act was never intended to cover disputes between advocates on the public sidewalks outside of our nation’s abortion clinics,” Breen said in a pretrial statement. “This new evidence shows clearly that Congress intended to limit the FACE Act to patients and staff working in the clinic, and not to take sides between pro-life and pro-choice counselors and escorts on the sidewalk. The Biden Department of Justice’s prosecution of Mark Houck is pure harassment, meant solely to intimidate our nation’s pro-life sidewalk counselors who provide vital resources to help pregnant women at risk for abortion.”
The arguments and evidence presented by Breen and the Thomas More Society apparently worked, according to the Daily Wire, as the jury in Houck’s trial, after initially being deadlocked on Friday and adjourning for the weekend, returned on Monday to fully acquit Houck of the federal charges against him.
“We are, of course, thrilled with the outcome. Mark and his family are now free of the cloud that the Biden administration threw upon them. We took on Goliath — the full might of the United States government — and won,” Breen said following the verdict. “The jury saw through and rejected the prosecution’s discriminatory case, which was harassment from day one. This is a win for Mark and the entire pro-life movement. The Biden Department of Justice’s intimidation against pro-life people and people of faith has been put in its place.”