“And we quickly worked to try and bring in an alternate juror. He came in and within an hour of him getting here, there was a unanimous not guilty verdict,” he said.
Fourteen-year-old Mark Houck Jr., who testified as a witness, told CNA outside the courthouse that “it feels really great to have the not guilty verdict. I was a little nervous to be on the stand. But I feel really good after it. I just feel really good in general.”
When asked if he felt justice has been done for his father, he replied: “Not yet, but it will be.”
Mark Houck Sr. said the first thing he was going to do was to go get some ice cream with his family. He could be seen praying and thanking God with supporters outside the courthouse. In his prayer, he prayed for Bruce Love, the abortion clinic escort who made the initial allegations against Houck.
Houck, 48, of Kintnersville in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, acknowledged that he twice pushed a volunteer escort outside a Planned Parenthood facility on Oct. 13, 2021, though Houck maintained he did so because the clinic volunteer was verbally harassing Houck’s 12-year-old son.
After local authorities declined to press charges, the U.S. Department of Justice stepped in, dispatching a team of FBI agents to arrest Houck at gunpoint in front of his terrified wife and children.
The morning raid on Sept. 23, 2022, at the family’s home sparked outrage within pro-life circles and swift condemnation from many federal lawmakers, who blasted the FBI’s heavy-handed tactics and the Justice Department’s use of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. Though the 1993 federal law, known as the FACE Act, was written to also prosecute crimes at pro-life pregnancy facilities and places of worship, it has been used almost exclusively against pro-life activists.
Houck was charged with two counts of violating the act and possibly faced 11 years in federal prison if convicted.
Houck was doing sidewalk counseling outside the clinic at the time of the 2021 incident in connection with his work with The King’s Men, a national men’s faith formation apostolate he runs.
Much of the testimony during the three-day trial focused on whether or not Houck pushed the clinic escort, 73-year-old Bruce Love, specifically because Love was providing reproductive health services, as detailed in the FACE Act. In his testimony, Love repeatedly denied verbally provoking Houck.
(Story continues below)
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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.”
The verdict is a victory for pro-life advocates who rallied to Houck’s defense and a rebuke to the Biden administration’s Justice Department, which has pledged to aggressively enforce the FACE Act in the wake of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.
U.S. District Judge Gerald Pappert himself raised the possibility that the case should never have been brought to trial, asking the prosecution Thursday whether the federal FACE Act didn’t “seem to be stretched a little thin here.”
Following the uproar over his arrest, an online fund drive launched and has raised more than $405,000 as of Monday. Twenty-two U.S. House members and at least a dozen U.S. senators have also championed his cause.
Joseph Bukuras is a journalist at the Catholic News Agency. Joe has prior experience working in state and federal government, in non-profits, and Catholic education. He has contributed to an array of publications and his reporting has been cited by leading news sources, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the Catholic University of America. He is based out of the Boston area.