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Judge jails pro-lifers immediately after FACE Act conviction, categorizing their protest as a “crime of violence”


“My belief that was formed after watching the video was… if the fetus survived the abortion attempt, they were left to die.”


U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has denied the request of pro-life activist Lauren Handy that she be freed from prison pending sentencing on her conviction last week under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, with the judge continuing to insist that Handy’s protest was a “crime of violence.”

Quick Facts

Handy was convicted on August 29 of violating the FACE Act and conspiracy to block the clinic. She and four others face up to 11 years in prison and $350,000 in fines. The conviction stemmed from a protest she and other members of the anti-abortion activist organization Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU) organized in the fall of 2020.

The judge incarcerated Handy, 28, and her co-defendants — John Hinshaw, 67, Heather Idoni, 61, William Goodman, 52, and Herb Geraghty, 25 — immediately upon conviction, even though a sentencing date has yet to be set. Four other PAAU activists are scheduled for trial on September 6.

The timing of the arrests has raised suspicion as to the motives behind the prosecutions. In March 2022, Handy and fellow activist Terrisa Buckovinac arrived at the Washington Surgi-Clinic to commemorate the Day of the Unborn Child. While there, they claim to have been given a container that was filled with the remains of 115 fetuses, five of which were late-term including one boy who was nearly full term. The activists claim that these children were aborted in late-term or partial-birth abortions in violation of federal law.

The two attempted to have autopsies performed on the children but were unable to find someone to perform them. After three days, they contacted the D.C. homicide unit to retrieve the babies and asked them to investigate. In short order, law enforcement showed up and Handy and other PAAU members were arrested by the FBI and charged, not for having the fetal remains but for the protest they took part in that was allegedly in violation of the FACE Act, which had taken place more than a year prior.

Handy and PAAU claimed that they protested Washington Surgi-Clinic because of a video made by the pro-life group LiveAction that seems to show abortionist Cesare Santangelo admitting that he would not provide medical care for a baby who survived an abortion.

Handy, who is Catholic, told jurors that her actions were motivated by her beliefs about abortion, explaining that she had been working with the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa, in Haiti before she returned to the United States to work against abortion full-time. “My ‘Calcutta’ was the abortion facilities,” Handy testified, a reference to the impoverished slums where Mother Teresa carried out her ministry.

Handy was represented by the legal firm Thomas More Society, which attempted to make a defense out of her beliefs, namely that her actions were necessary to prevent the murder of babies. However, the lawyers’ efforts were thwarted by Kollar-Kotelly, who would not allow the defense to argue that Handy’s actions were to defend another person, referring to the strategy as a “vigilante defense.”

Further hindering their case, Kollar-Kotelly banned the video made by LiveAction which the defendants claimed was the motivation behind their protest, claiming that it was “propaganda.” Kollar-Kotelly also blocked the defendants from showing photos of the babies said to have been obtained at the clinic shortly before Handy’s arrest, calling the photos “particularly incendiary and entirely distracting.”

The video was critical to understanding Handy’s mindset and motivation, who quit college after seeing the video to advocate for babies. “My belief that was formed after watching the video was… if the fetus survived the abortion attempt, they were left to die,” Handy told the jury.

“In Lauren’s mind, any person who she can convince not to go into that clinic is a person whose baby is not going to be born alive and left to die,” explained Steve Crampton, senior counsel with the Thomas More Society.

Not only did the D.C. jury convict the pro-life activists but Kollar-Kotelly claimed their violation of the FACE Act was a “crime of violence,” which allowed her to incarcerate them immediately, rather than wait until sentencing.

Thomas More Society attorneys reacted to the ruling by saying they would appeal the decision. They also filed an emergency motion asking the court to rescind its detainment of Handy, arguing that pre-sentencing guidelines require that Handy’s case should be considered under “more lenient provisions” of the U.S. code.

“In an unexpected twist, the Court found that because the violation of FACE—in this case—was a crime of ‘violence,’ all five defendants must be immediately incarcerated. So, the defendants were led out of the courtroom by an army of U.S. Marshals. This is an outrage, and the one thing the defendants had really agreed upon was to remain non-violent. The real violence is what happens during the abortion procedure,” Crampton stated.

Kollar-Kotelly quickly denied the motion to release Handy pending sentencing last week, at which point Handy’s attorneys announced they are appealing her decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Crampton encouraged pro-lifers to keep on fighting as the left’s war against pro-lifers shows they are making a difference.

This prosecution and ruling only add to the growing concern that the FBI and Department of Justice are using the FACE Act as a weapon of intimidation to discourage future pro-life protests. Thomas More Society also represented pro-life activist Mark Houck, who was arrested by a team of agents with guns drawn in an early-morning raid on his home while his children were present. Houck was charged but acquitted by a Philadelphia jury. Many others have also been targets of prosecution under the FACE Act.

Meanwhile, the FBI had made only one arrest on the nearly 100 attacks by pro-abortion zealots on pro-life pregnancy centers, which have included firebombings, arson, and vandalism. Even politicians’ own words describing pro-life crisis pregnancy centers as “fake clinics” that “deceive” women have come home to roost, with some vandals immortalizing their words in paint on the walls of pregnancy centers. If anyone needs the FACE Act to be enforced, it’s pro-life pregnancy centers, not abortion clinics.

Suspiciously, only as news about Handy’s conviction was breaking were we informed that Santangelo and his clinic are being investigated. Whether this investigation will include autopsies of the five late-term babies is unclear as the city has been silent on the location of the babies, as well as whether they have been examined.

Regardless of your view of the subject or the actions of Handy and the other protestors, there is nothing to indicate that Handy committed any violence. In fact, she made it clear to all those participating that there should be no violence. Instead, her actions, which she believed were protected rights under the First Amendment, were that of a passionate protestor who truly believes that inside that clinic babies are being murdered, including after birth.

Wouldn’t a sane and compassionate person seek to stop that? Our society wants us to believe that the humane thing to do is to stand back, remain silent, and ignore these atrocities. In reality, Handy did the least violent thing of anyone involved: She tried to save human lives. To think that she should be put in prison for 11 years and fined $350,000 while violent criminals are released in D.C. is a true miscarriage of justice.

We can only pray that the D.C. Court of Appeals will act as righteous judges and release her immediately.

The Church must be involved in public discourse and influence. That’s why we write — so our readers can be equipped to understand and pursue righteous change in the world. For more timely, informative, and faith-based content, subscribe to the Standing for Freedom Center newsletter.

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