Lawmakers request information from FBI about pro-life arrests, indictments

Mark Houck An FBI agent stands outside the Houck residence in Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 23, 2022. Mark Houck was arrested that day and charged with assaulting a Planned Parenthood escort outside an Philadelphia abortion clinic on Oct. 13, 2021. | Courtesy of the Houck family

Republican House and Senate lawmakers wrote Wednesday to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to request information about the recent spate of arrests and indictments of nonviolent pro-life people, contrasting those investigations with the relative silence from the FBI on the many documented arson and vandalism attacks against pro-life entities this year. 

In the Oct. 12 letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, more than three dozen Republican lawmakers asked why the bureau appears to be targeting pro-life people disproportionately under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act — which is designed to protect pro-life clinics as well as abortion clinics. 

“Overzealous prosecutions under the FACE Act weaponize the power of federal law enforcement against American citizens in what should firmly be state and local matters. Further, these abuses of federal power against pro-life Americans based solely on their beliefs undermine the American people’s trust in the FBI,” the lawmakers wrote. 

The letter was organized by Texas Rep. Chip Roy and Utah Sen. Mike Lee.

The FACE Act, passed in 1994, is a federal law that prohibits, among other things, the blocking of access to abortion clinics. According to the DOJ, the statute is intended to protect all patients, providers, and facilities that provide reproductive health services, “including pro-life pregnancy counseling services and any other pregnancy support facility providing reproductive health care.” The law also protects freedom of access to houses of worship. 

The FACE Act has been in the news recently because of a number of high-profile indictments of nonviolent pro-life protestors. Philadelphia pro-life leader and father of seven Mark Houck was indicted by a federal grand jury Sept. 23 after a Planned Parenthood clinic escort alleged that Houck pushed him twice, causing him to fall to the ground both times. Later in September, Father Fidelis Moscinski, 52, a priest of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, was charged under the FACE Act for a nonviolent July protest during which he padlocked an abortion clinic’s gate shut. And in early October, 11 people were indicted under the FACE Act for their actions during a pro-life protest in March 2021. 

The arrests and indictments of pro-life protestors throw into stark relief the fact that there is no evidence of FBI investigations or DOJ prosecutions related to the rise in violence directed at pro-life people and institutions since May 2022. 

CNA has recorded nearly 100 abortion-motivated attacks against churches, pregnancy centers, and other entities in the United States since the May 2 leak of a draft opinion showing that the U.S. Supreme Court was about to overturn Roe v. Wade and return the question of abortion legalization to the states. 

“[T]here have been no reports of FBI investigations or DOJ prosecutions” in relation to those attacks, the letter says — “[H]einous, violent, and organized crimes across state lines that are also subject to prosecution under the FACE Act.” 

“It is clear that congressional scrutiny of the FBI’s use of the FACE Act is needed to ensure the FBI is applying it as Congress intended and, if not, to determine whether the FBI can continue to be trusted with this authority,” the letter reads. 

The authors of the letter concluded by requesting information from the FBI on the number of FACE Act investigations opened per year from 2019 to the present; the number of investigations involving abortion clinics, pregnancy centers, and houses of worship; and several questions about the criteria the bureau uses to decide whether to open a FACE Act case, the amount of resources the bureau is putting into investigating FACE Act cases; and whether the DOJ has issued any new internal guidance regarding the FACE Act since the overturning of Roe v. Wade. 

One of the signers of the letter, New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith, in late September introduced The Protect Pregnancy Care Centers Act of 2022, which has attracted more than a dozen co-sponsors and is supported by national pro-life organizations, including SBA Pro-Life America, the March for Life, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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