Twenty-two members of Congress are demanding an explanation from the Department of Justice after the arrest of a Catholic pro-life leader in front of his wife and children at the family’s home in Pennsylvania last week. 

Mark Houck, 48, was charged with two counts of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or the FACE Act, and entered a not guilty plea at his arraignment in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

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,” according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). 

“The FBI’s treatment of pro-life leader Mark Houck is chilling,” Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines said in a press release that accompanied the Sept. 27 letter. “Instead of allowing for a local resolution of the dispute, the FBI nationalized the matter by using excessive force with an early morning raid at gunpoint in front of young children. The American people deserve answers.” 

The letter requests, by Sept. 30, “an explanation for the excessive level of force used by the FBI in this case, and why the power of federal law enforcement was once again used against an American citizen in what should be a state and local matter.”

“Attorney General Merrick Garland oversees an increasingly politicized FBI that seems hell-bent on making examples of average American citizens who don’t align politically with the administration,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said in the press release. 

“Given what we know about it thus far that is what the case of the raid on Mark Houck’s home appears to be,” Roy added. “And the FBI should immediately answer for its apparent use of a 25- to 30-person SWAT team with guns drawn to target Mark Houck, a pro-life father of seven, for allegedly shoving a guy in front of an abortion clinic (while he maintains he was defending his 12-year-old son).”

Houck’s arrest gained national attention after his wife publicly offered her account about details of the resources and tactics used by the FBI to arrest the pro-life leader and family man.

“A SWAT team of about 25 came to my house with about 15 vehicles and started pounding on our door,” Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, told CNA the day of the arrest.

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“They said they were going to break in if he didn’t open it. And then they had about five guns pointed at my husband, myself, and basically at my kids,” she added.

The FBI disputed Ryan-Marie Houck’s account of the arrest in a statement on Monday, calling the claims “inaccurate.”

“No SWAT Team or SWAT operators were involved. FBI agents knocked on Mr. Houck’s front door, identified themselves as FBI agents, and asked him to exit the residence. He did so and was taken into custody without incident pursuant to an indictment,” the statement said.

“Extensive planning takes place prior to the service of any federal warrant. The FBI then employs the personnel and tactics deemed necessary to effect a safe arrest or search,” the statement said.

“While it’s the FBI’s standard practice not to discuss such operational specifics, we can say that the number of personnel and vehicles widely reported as being on scene Friday is an overstatement, and the tactics used by FBI personnel were professional, in line with standard practices, and intended to ensure the safety of everyone present in and outside the residence,” the statement concluded.

An FBI spokesman declined to answer CNA’s questions about the number of law enforcement personnel at the scene and whether any drew their weapons and pointed them at the family.

The charges

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Houck was indicted by a federal grand jury Sept. 22 after a Planned Parenthood clinic escort alleged that Houck pushed him twice, causing him to fall to the ground both times.

The federal indictment says that Houck twice assaulted the 72-year-old man, identified in the indictment by the initials B.L., who was at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia on Oct. 13, 2021.

According to the indictment, Houck shoved the man to the ground as he was attempting to escort two patients. The indictment also says that Houck “verbally confronted” and “forcefully shoved” him to the ground in front of Planned Parenthood the same day. The indictment says the man was injured and needed medical attention.

Houck regularly prays the rosary, hands out literature, and “does some sidewalk counseling” outside the clinic, his wife told CNA the day of the arrest.

Brian Middleton, who acted as Houck’s family spokesperson, told CNA Monday that Mark Houck maintains that he pushed the clinic escort in an effort to protect his then 12-year-old son from the man’s verbal harassment of the boy.

Middleton said that the man fell down but was not seriously hurt and required only “a Band-Aid on his finger.”

Houck faces the possibility of 11 years in prison if convicted under the new federal charges. 

The congressional letter addressed the dropped state charges.

“There is much to learn about the extent of the FBI’s operations in this case, especially since state-level assault charges were apparently dismissed by local authorities in Philadelphia,” the congressional letter says.

“Surely, the FBI must have an extraordinary reason for showing up at the home of an American family, allegedly with roughly 25 heavily armed federal agents, and arresting a father in front of his seven children. At the moment, it appears to be an extraordinary overreach for political ends.”