9 who blocked abortion clinic are charged with federal offenses

Nine people who blocked access to an abortion clinic in Washington in October 2020 have been charged with federal civil rights violations, prosecutors said Wednesday, about six months after the Justice Department announced that he would use a 1994 law to prosecute such cases nationwide.

Prosecutors said the nine used their bodies, furniture, chains and ropes to block the doors of the clinic and broadcast their actions live on Facebook.

In an indictment returned by a federal grand jury, the nine defendants were charged with participating in a conspiracy to prevent the clinic from providing reproductive health services and to prevent patients from receiving those services, said the prosecutors.

They were also charged with breaching the Free Entry to Clinics Act 1994, which makes it a crime to threaten, obstruct or injure a person seeking access to a reproductive health clinic. or damage clinic property.

If convicted, the defendants each face up to 11 years in prison, three years of probation and fines of $350,000, prosecutors said.

In September, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland reported that the department would use the FACE law to protect the constitutional right to abortion, days after a Texas law came into force enacting a near-complete ban on the procedure.

“We will not tolerate violence against those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services, physical obstruction or property damage in violation of FACE law,” Garland said at the time, adding that the Department of Justice had contacted the American lawyers. FBI offices and field offices across the country to discuss law enforcement.

Mary Ziegler, a law professor at Florida State University College of Law and a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, said the FACE law fell into disuse under the Trump administration, leading abortion-rights supporters to criticize that it had become a “paper”. tiger” that encouraged more aggressive action outside of abortion clinics.

“It’s significant that they’re using the FACE Act again in quite a big way,” Professor Ziegler said, adding that the charges send a signal to those who would block clinics that “there will be consequences as long as Biden is in power.” in office.”

The indictment was announced as the Supreme Court considers a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion, and that Republican-run states enacted laws to make abortion illegal in as many circumstances as possible. possible.

In court documents, federal prosecutors did not identify the Washington clinic that was blocked on October 22, 2020.

The blockade was led by Lauren Handy, 28, of Alexandria, Va., who called the clinic a few days prior and made an appointment at 9 a.m. for reproductive services as “Hazel Jenkins “, prosecutors said.

Seven other defendants then traveled to Washington from other states. Just before the clinic opened that morning, Ms Handy, who had chains and ropes in a sports bag, approached a medical specialist in the hallway and said she was “Hazel Jenkins”, there for a date, prosecutors said.

Shortly after, Jonathan Darnel, 40, of Arlington, Va., who was outside the clinic, created a Facebook event titled “Nobody Dies Today,” prosecutors said.

When the clinic opened and the medical specialist unlocked the doors, Ms Handy and other defendants ‘forcefully pushed’ the door of the clinic into the waiting room, prosecutors said in court documents.

One of the defendants who backed into the clinic tripped and sprained a nurse’s ankle, prosecutors said.

Inside the waiting room, the defendants moved chairs to block a door leading to a processing area, then sat on the chairs and chained and roped themselves, prosecutors said.

When a patient arrived, the defendants prevented her from entering the treatment area, prosecutors said.

“We have people physically intervening with their bodies to prevent women from entering the clinic to murder their children,” Mr. Darnel said on a Facebook live stream, according to court documents.

After Mr Darnel entered the building and recorded people blocking the entrance, he said on the live stream that “rescuers are doing their job. They do not allow women to enter the abortion clinic,” according to court documents. It was not immediately clear if Mr. Darnel had a lawyer.

Terrisa Bukovinac, founder and executive director of Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, identified Ms. Handy as the group’s director of activism and said Ms. Handy was represented by an attorney from the Thomas More Society, who did not immediately replied to an email. .

Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising seeks to mobilize anti-abortion activists for “direct action”, according to its website.

“Rescuers like Lauren and the other eight defendants are inspiring a whole new generation of leaders and activists to overcome their fears of punishment and take heroic direct action on behalf of the unborn,” Ms Bukovinac said in a statement. . “Civil rights activists have historically engaged in direct action tactics to bring justice to the oppressed.”

Dr. Laura Meyers, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC, thanked prosecutors for filing the lawsuit and said “the health and safety of our employees and patients is paramount.”

“We are deeply grateful that the Department of Justice has taken decisive action against those who for too long have sought to intimidate and threaten our patients and staff,” she said in a statement. “Our community deserves access to health care without hindrance or intimidation.”

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