Department of Justice tells Heartbeat it will protect pregnancy centers via FACE Act

By Lisa Bourne

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has pledged to Heartbeat International that it will enforce the FACE Act [The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act] impartially and that its enforcement will include offenses against pregnancy help centers.

In a December 9 email to Heartbeat International President Jor-El Godsey, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ Kristen Clarke told Godsey that violence and threats against “reproductive health services providers” is “unacceptable,” and that the DOJ’s enforcement of the FACE Act encompasses the protection of pregnancy centers. Heartbeat is the largest network of pregnancy help organizations in the U.S. and internationally.

“As I have previously said, the key principle underlying Justice Department’s enforcement of the FACE Act is that violence or threats of violence against patients or providers of reproductive health services is unacceptable,” Clarke stated to Godsey. “The Department will enforce the Act evenhandedly to protect the rights of all patients and all providers, including pregnancy resource centers” (emphasis in the original).

The FACE Act “prohibits violent, threatening, damaging and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain or provide reproductive health services.” Specifics are available on the DOJ website HERE

Signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, the statute was originally aimed at addressing protests of abortion facilities. 

The DOJ, however, has clarified amid the rash of post-Dobbs attacks from abortion supporters on pro-life groups, pregnancy help organizations, and churches, that the FACE Act does in fact apply to pro-life pregnancy centers, the centers falling under the “reproductive health services” category due this definition including “services relating to pregnancy.”

In addition to the FACE Act historically being associated with protests of abortion facilities, the term “reproductive services” has typically been used to denote abortion and birth control.

Clarke informed Godsey in her email that a defendant in a FACE Act case brought by the DOJ, Whitney Durant, had pled guilty December 8 to a violation of the Act by attacking HerChoice pregnancy center in Bowling Green, Ohio, in April of this year. Specifics in the case were included in a December 8 press release from Clarke’s office, which she linked to in her communication with Godsey.

“Defacing facilities that provide reproductive health services will not be tolerated in our society,” Clarke said in the statement. “The Justice Department is committed to enforcing the FACE Act to protect all patients who seek reproductive health services and all persons and facilities that provide such services.”

U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Rebecca Lutzko additionally underscored the DOJ’s inclusion of pregnancy centers in its definition of reproductive services for the purpose of enforcement of the FACE Act. 

“As reflected by today’s guilty plea, the United States will enforce federal laws that protect uninterrupted access to all clinics providing reproductive health services, whether they provide women with options that include abortion care or whether they solely encourage women to consider non-abortion alternatives,” Lutzko said. “Here, the vandalized clinic did not provide abortion care, but that did not give the defendant license to deface the clinic’s property in protest, violating federal law in the process.”

FBI Special Agent Greg Nelsen of the Cleveland Field Office echoed Clarke’s and Lutzko’s remarks in the Durant case.

“The First Amendment provides a constitutional right to peacefully protest, but Ms. Durant’s actions of defacing a reproductive health care center crossed a line,” Nelson said. “The FBI and our partners will continue to aggressively investigate FACE Act violations and protect every American’s access to reproductive health care services.”

According to court documents and statements made in court, Duran had intentionally damaged the HerChoice pregnancy center on April 15 of this year by defacing the center’s building, specifically spray painting, “LIARS,” “Fund Abortion,” “Abort God,” and “Jane’s Revenge.”  

Godsey welcomed enforcement of the law in the case of Durant and the pregnancy center attack.

“Pregnancy help centers, like HerChoice, should be able to help women seek alternatives to abortion without threat of vandalism or violence,” Godsey said. “We thank the Cleveland FBI office and local law enforcement for their efforts to uphold the FACE Act and bring those responsible to justice. Helping women to choose life for their own baby should not be a political tool or matter of controversy. Every woman should be loved and supported in her pregnancy.”  

Since the May 2022 leak of the Supreme Court majority draft opinion in the Dobbs case that would eventually strike down Roe v. Wadeabortion supporters have targeted pregnancy help organizationspro-life groups, and churches with vandalism, violence, including firebombing, protests, and online disparagement. Pro-abortion elected officials have also publicly disparaged pregnancy centers with false and inflammatory rhetoric, at times working to target them via legislation.  

The CatholicVote violence tracker had 88 attacks on pregnancy centers and pro-life groups since the Dobbs leak as of press time. CV also tracks violence against Catholic Churches, and according to the group, as of December 11, 2023, “at least 219 attacks have been perpetrated against Catholic churches since the draft Supreme Court opinion proposing to reverse Roe v. Wade was leaked in early May 2022, with many including graffiti with pro-abortion messages.”

Pro-life and pregnancy help advocates have called for the attacks on pro-life and pregnancy help organizations to be addressed by authorities.  However, there has been a dearth of abortion activists arrested and indicted at the same time dozens pro-life advocates have been arrested for peaceful protest, at times with extreme, heavy-handed tactics applied to the peaceful pro-lifers.

The Daily Signal reported in September: 

The DOJ has charged at least 26 pro-life individuals in 2022 with violations of the FACE Act. No far-left attackers were charged with the FACE Act in 2022, and the DOJ has charged only four people with FACE Act violations in 2023 for attacking Florida pro-life pregnancy centers.

Arguably the most egregious instance of extreme use of the FACE Act against a pro-life individual on the part of the federal government has been the arrest of Mark Houck, the pro-life advocate and father of seven, upon whose home some 25-30 FBI agents descended in September 2022 terrorizing the family’s children with the arrest.

The DOJ’s case against Houck involved a 2021 incident at a Philadelphia-area Planned Parenthood where Houck had pushed an abortion facility volunteer who had been repeatedly harassing his son. Local authorities had declined to charge Houck. He was found not guilty in the federal case earlier this year, and the family is suing the DOJ for ‘malicious and retaliatory prosecution.’

Asked by Senator Mike Lee of Utah in a Senate hearing in March of this year about Houck’s arrest and the disparity between the DOJ’s prosecution of pro-life individuals as compared to abortion supporters, United States Attorney General Merrick Garland suggested that pro-abortion vandals cannot be caught because they perpetrate their attacks at night.

The Justice Department has said outright that it is targeting pro-life advocates via the FACE Act in answer to Roe v. Wade being overturned. 

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said last December that the overturn of Roe was a “devastating blow to women throughout the country” that took away “the constitutional right to abortion” and increased “the urgency” of the DOJ’s work—including the “enforcement of the FACE Act, to ensure continued lawful access to reproductive services.”

In October of this year Lee and Representative Chip Roy of Texas introduced legislation to repeal what the two lawmakers termed “the unconstitutional and easily weaponized” FACE Act. 

Clarke appeared last week before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government where she was questioned about the DOJ’s targeting of pro-life activists like Houck.

Clarke likewise told Congressional lawmakers on her office was “committed to even handed enforcement of the FACE Act.” 

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) challenged Clarke on her division’s FACE Act enforcement record.  

“Even under your watch, it’s at least 35 to 1 or 2,” Roy stated. “That is not even-handed. It’s far from even handed.”

Rep. Roy proceeded to confront Clarke on Houck. 

“Mark Houck, who was targeted, had a raid of his home, prosecuted under this, was acquitted by a jury!” Roy said. “Have you apologized to him on behalf of the Department of Justice for that grave violation of his civil rights? Having his family have to watch him being raided at his home? And then he’s acquitted by a federal jury? Have you apologized to him?”

“We follow the facts and apply the law,” Clarke responded, “that is our job, and we welcome opportunities to engage with other pro-life groups that may be experiencing threats or acts of violence.”

“So the answer to that is no,” Roy said.

Despite the varied pro-abortion attacks on pregnancy help since Dobbs the roughly 3,000 pregnancy help centers in the U.S. have continued to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to women and families in need.

Editor’s note: Heartbeat International manages Pregnancy Help News and is reposted with permission.