Roy Introduces Bill to Repeal FACE Act and End the Persecution of Pro-Lifers
After receiving no satisfaction from Attorney General Merrick Garland, a conservative congressman has introduced a bill to “stop giving authority to the Department of Justice to be able to go after people like Mark Houck,” the pro-life activist and father of seven arrested by heavily-armed federal agents before being acquitted of all charges.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) introduced a bill to repeal the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which allows the federal government to prosecute anyone who blocks any reproductive health center. Although the Act applies equally to abortion facilities and pro-life pregnancy resource centers, “of all of the prosecutions under the FACE Act, 126 were against pro-lifers; four were against people that were contrary to life, or pro-choice,” Congressman Roy told “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins” on Thursday. That makes the DOJ’s biased enforcement of the FACE Act “clear” and undeniable.
A jury subsequently acquitted Houck of the charges — which local authorities refused to file — after about two-and-a-half hours of deliberation. Roy pressed Garland, President Joe Biden’s handpicked chief law enforcement officer, about cases like Houck’s during congressional testimony Wednesday.
“Did you investigate this or question the U.S. attorney why they wasted resources for such an obvious result?” Roy asked Garland, before demanding the attorney general answer whether the Houck prosecution represented “a good use of [the Department of] Justice’s authority.”
“I pressed the attorney general, [asking,] ‘What are you doing?’” Roy told Perkins, yet Garland’s responses seemed evasive, he said.
“We need to repeal it and then stop giving authority to the Department of Justice to be able to go after people like Mark Houck, or even a very liberal, progressive pro-life group,” the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU).
Last Friday, a jury convicted two elderly pro-life advocates of violating the FACE Act. Jean Marshall, age 73, and Joan Bell, 74, each face an 11-year jail sentence and a $350,000 fine for allegedly blockading the Washington Surgi-Center, where the bodies of five viable babies, potentially victims of illegal late-term abortions, were found. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, a Clinton appointee, ruled the defendants must remain in prison until the sentencing hearing. The sentences follow the conviction of five PAAU members under the same act, including Lauren Handy, director of activism at PAAU.
PAAU has “had the FBI infiltrate them,” said Roy. “This is wrong. This is not what we should have the federal government doing.” Roy and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) sent a letter to Garland demanding information about the FBI’s decision to spy on the pro-life group.
When Roy asked Garland for an answer to the letter during this week’s testimony, Garland demurred. “I don’t know what you’re referring to,” Garland asserted, “but I will ask the Office of Legislative Affairs to look into this letter.”
Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, thanked Roy for “taking the lead on addressing this issue, because we’ve seen all of these pro-life centers and churches attacked” for their pro-life stance without significant prosecutorial reaction from Garland. “But pro-lifers, they’ve got a target on them.”
The Biden administration has filed more FACE Act cases since taking office than his two predecessors in the previous decade. In June, the Biden administration released a “fact sheet” highlighting its whole-of-government massive resistance to the Dobbs Supreme Court decision, boasting that “[s]ince January 2021, the department has brought 18 cases involving a total of 48 defendants accused of criminal FACE Act-related violations.” That exceeds the 17 FACE Act cases the Justice Department prosecuted during the previous 10-year period between 2011 and 2021.
The reason why is clear: the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last June. Vanita Gupta, the leader of Joe Biden’s Reproductive Rights Task Force, declared last December that “[i]n Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court dealt a devastating blow to” the abortion industry, “increasing the urgency of our work, including enforcement of the FACE Act, to ensure continued lawful access to reproductive services.”
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus and a co-sponsor of Roy’s bill, noted that the FACE Act demands “harsh, mean-spirited punishments when pro-life individuals engage in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience” such as “holding a sign, singing a hymn, or praying the Rosary” — which Smith described as “the staple of the human rights and civil rights movements.”
“It has become a tactic of those who want a weaponized justice system to pass laws and use their authority addressing not simply the?conduct?of people engaged in debate but attacking the?reasons?for their actions,” Students for Life Action President Kristen Hawkins noted in a letter to Congress. Federal agents also “sometimes seiz[e] state and local cases, to federalize their prosecution.” Hawkins contrasted “the August 2020 arrest of two Students for Life of America students for trying to chalk ‘Black Preborn Lives Matter’ in Washington, D.C.” with “the violence, arson, destruction of property, and mayhem of the ‘Black Lives Matter’” movement.
Others support the legislation because it violates the original intent of the Founding Fathers on separation of powers and federalism. “The Constitution reserves general police power to the states, which Congress infringed upon when it passed the FACE Act,” said Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), who supports the same legislation in the Senate. “Joe Biden’s DOJ has weaponized this constitutionally dubious law against pro-life sidewalk counselors while failing to protect pregnancy centers and churches from arson, vandalism, and violence.”
Roy told Perkins that the FACE Act issue was only one weakness in Garland’s testimony. “Besides avoiding all the questions on [U.S. Attorney David] Weiss and what’s going on with Hunter Biden, he refused to talk to me and answer the questions [in] any meaningful way about Scott Smith … and the abuses he was experiencing being labeled a domestic terrorist. And he refused to say that they would rescind their memo” on the topic. Roy called pro-life advocates heroes along with Smith, Riley Gaines, Chloe Cole, and SAGE Cons (Spiritually Active Governance Engaged Conservatives) generally at the 2023 Pray Vote Stand Summit on September 15.
Supporters hope defanging a weaponized government will begin America’s return to a constitutional republic, rather than a nation governed by the ruler’s decree. “May it be the beginning of a movement to restore limited government and ordered liberty in our land,” said Steve Crampton of the Thomas More Society.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.