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Four more pro-lifers convicted under the FACE Act, including 87-year-old survivor of communist concentration camp


[UPDATE]  Four more peaceful pro-life protestors were convicted yesterday under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act.

The convictions are the result of a March 2021 protest at an abortion clinic in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, during which protestors staged a sit-in inside the clinic, praying peacefully, singing hymns, and encouraging women to keep their babies.

The four convicted are Eva Edl, Eva Zastrow, James Zastrow, and Paul Place.

Edl, who is 87 years old, survived a Yugoslavian concentration camp run by the Soviets during World War II and was later able to escape and immigrate to America.

She and the three other pro-lifers, all in their 20s, were convicted during a one-day bench trial of a misdemeanor violation of the FACE Act and now face a maximum sentence of six months in prison, five years of supervised release, and fines of up to $10,000.

The Department of Justice wrote of the convictions,

“Evidence presented at trial proved that the defendants violated the FACE Act by using physical obstruction over the course of several hours to interfere with the clinic’s employees and a patient, because the clinic was providing, and the patient sought, reproductive health services.  The clinic was located on the second floor of a medical building.  The defendants and others filled the interior hallway to the clinic. These defendants positioned themselves directly in front of the main clinic door for over two hours, physically blocking access to the clinic, resulting in no patients accessing the clinic.”

This past January, six other protestors, known collectively as the Tennessee Six, were also tried and convicted of not only the FACE Act but also on conspiracy charges. They face more than a decade in prison and fines of up to $250,000.

The convictions come amid criticisms of the DOJ for its unequal enforcement of the FACE Act. The law is supposed to protect not just abortion clinics but also crisis pregnancy centers and churches from violence. Despite the hundreds of attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers and churches that have taken place in the last two years, the DOJ has arrested and prosecuted only a few pro-abortion perpetrators of threats, vandalism, firebombings, and other violence against pro-life facilities or workers.

Detractors have argued that the DOJ is weaponizing the FACE Act against those who oppose abortion.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, recently introduced legislation that would end the FACE Act. With the latest convictions of Edl and the three other pro-lifers, he is now calling for the bill to be passed “immediately.”

All 10 of the pro-lifers convicted in Tennessee will be officially sentenced and imprisoned in July.


{Published January 30, 2024}  Six pro-life activists have been found guilty of violations related to the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, a conviction that could send each of them to jail for 11 years.

In October 2022, eleven pro-life activists were arrested in connection with a “sit-in” at a Tennessee abortion clinic that took place during March 2021.

The activists called it a “rescue,” which they assert was entirely peaceful and included singing hymns and trying to speak to women to let them know they had other options besides abortion.

The Department of Justice, on the other hand, argues that the protest was a “blockade” and violent.

A two-hour livestream of the protest shows the activists lining the hallways, singing songs, and reading Scripture.

The six defendants in this case are Paul Vaughn, Chet Gallagher, Coleman Boyd, Heather Idoni, Cal Zastrow, and Dennis Green. These six are charged with both a violation of the FACE Act, as well as conspiracy to prevent the right to access abortion protected under the FACE Act. The FACE Act violation carries a maximum of a one-year prison sentence while the conspiracy charge is a felony punishable by 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. All six defendants were found guilty on both counts. They await sentencing in July.

Idoni faces conspiracy charges related to another protest in Michigan, as well as a conviction connected to a protest in Washington, D.C., meaning Idoni could face up to 33 years in prison.

Several of the other defendants also face charges in the Michigan case, including Gallagher and Calvin Zastrow.

Four of those arrested as part of the Tennessee protest only face misdemeanor charges of one year. Those are Eva Edl, Eva Zastrow, James Zastrow, and Paul Place. Eva Zastrow and Edl also face FACE Act and conspiracy charges in the Michigan case. Edl is 87 years old and the survivor of a communist concentration camp; a conviction in Michigan would result in what would essentially be a life sentence.

Meanwhile, one of those arrested, Caroline Davis, faced conspiracy charges in the Tennessee and Michigan cases but accepted a plea deal. In exchange for having her charges dropped to a misdemeanor, she agreed to testify against the other defendants.

Lawyers for the defendants argued that the video shows that the activists’ intent was to save lives and to offer help to the women. They point to video showing one protester offering help to a woman. 

While the government argues that the activists were not peaceful and intimidated women, the defendants’ legal counsel argues if they had wanted to intimidate women they would have been shouting, not singing hymns.

“We are, of course, disappointed with the outcome,” Steve Crampton, senior counsel for the Thomas More Society and attorney for Paul Vaughn, said in a statement. “This was a peaceful demonstration by entirely peaceable citizens—filled with prayer, hymn-singing, and worship—oriented toward persuading expecting mothers not to abort their babies.”

Crampton claims the DOJ’s prosecution of Vaughn, a father of 11 children, and the others was “to intimidate and punish Paul and other pro-life people and people of faith.”

Thomas More Society plans to appeal the decision, which, if taken, would be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The DOJ has faced criticism for its disparate enforcement of the FACE Act against pro-lifers compared to its approach to pro-abortion protestors who have issued threats and even firebombed pro-life centers and churches. Not only has the DOJ been quick to prosecute pro-lifers to the fullest extent of the FACE Act, they have used shows of force to arrest the peaceful activists. Teams of armed FBI agents showed up at Gallagher’s home to arrest him, though he was out of town. They also forcibly arrested Vaughn at his home.

The FBI was lambasted for its use of a SWAT team to arrest pro-lifer Mark Houck at his home, even pointing guns at his children. Houck was later acquitted on all charges.

Immediately following the Nashville verdict, the six pro-life defendants, their families, and their friends gathered in front of the courthouse to pray and sing hymns (as shown in photo above).

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Klopf was said to have compared the actions of the protestors to trying to convince someone not to vote and blocking a polling location. She argued “something is not peaceful if laws are broken.”

Klopf is dangerously wrong on this point. Civil Rights Movement protesters, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., often engaged in peaceful civil disobedience in order to call attention to unjust laws that discriminated against black people. Perhaps most comparable to what these pro-lifers did in Tennessee were the student sit-ins at the Woolworth’s lunch counters in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960. King said of those protests,

“The key significance of the student movement lies in the fact that from its inception, everywhere, it has combined direct action with non-violence. This quality has given it the extraordinary power and discipline which every thinking person observes.”

Would Klopf and the DOJ characterize King and those who violated segregation laws as violent?

What about the work of muckraker photographer Lewis Hine who captured photos of child labor conditions in the early 20th century? Hine often disguised himself as a salesman and would have been charged with trespassing had he been caught. Was Hine wrong to document the dangerous working conditions of children? Was Hine being violent for the simple act of bringing to light these then-legal but immoral practices?

Peaceful protest and civil disobedience to call attention to unjust policies and laws is part of the fabric of our nation, and there is no indication that the protest at the Tennessee abortion clinic was anything but peaceful.

Now, however, these men and women have been convicted and could be sentenced to 11 years in prison for sitting and singing in a hallway.

What is wrong with our justice system that such a peaceful and harmless action, one intended to help mothers avoid the horrors of abortion and to save the lives of children, could land a person in prison for over a decade?

What is wrong is that our justice system is now politically and ideologically motivated. It is one that wages war on those it opposes and gives a slap on the wrist to those it agrees with. These actions taken against non-violent protestors are meant to intimidate and silence pro-lifers and to advance the DOJ’s desire to uphold the mythical right to an abortion — a right the Supreme Court has stated does not exist.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the DOJ to respond this harshly to arsonists or terrorists who make good on their promise to inflict violence against pro-life pregnancy centers, churches, or individuals. It will only turn you blue.

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