Thomas More Society files emergency appeal to release activist from pre-sentencing detention

Lauren Handy Lauren Handy speaks at a news conference on April 5, 2022, in Washington, D.C. | Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Thomas More Society, a Catholic public interest law firm based in Chicago, has filed an emergency appeal to release a pro-life activist from pre-sentencing detention after she was found guilty of federal law violations this week.

Lauren Handy was among the five anti-abortion demonstrators found guilty this week of felony violations of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. Handy and her co-activists had entered an abortion clinic in Washington, D.C., in 2020 as part of a pro-life demonstration.

Following the guilty verdict in a D.C. district court on Tuesday, the activists were remanded to jail prior to their sentencing, which the U.S. attorney in D.C. claimed was “required by statute.”

The Thomas More Society said after the verdict that it had filed an emergency motion seeking the release of Handy, whom the firm is representing. On Thursday afternoon the firm said its request had been denied and it was appealing to a higher court.

“Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has DENIED our emergency motion to release Lauren Handy from pre-sentencing detention,” the group wrote on X (formerly Twitter). “We have immediately filed an emergency appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. More to come.”

Thomas Ciesielka, a spokesman for the Thomas More Society, didn’t indicate what the group’s plans would be if the appeal were turned down. “Waiting on that decision,” he told CNA on Friday morning.

In its earlier filing, the firm argued that the FACE Act was not “categorically” a “crime of violence,” and thus pre-sentencing detention guidelines for Handy should be considered under “more lenient provisions” of the U.S. code.

Further, “there is no evidence that Ms. Handy poses a danger to the safety of any person or the community,” the firm said; nor does she pose a flight risk, it argued.

Handy had testified during the trial that she and her co-defendants had mounted the blockade effort after she viewed videos that she said appeared to show doctors refusing to care for an infant who had survived an abortion attempt.

Martin Cannon, senior counsel with the Thomas More Society, said after the verdict that Handy “was there to prevent these horrific live-birth abortions, which does not violate the FACE Act.”

“However, she has become a victim of the merciless drive by Biden’s Department of Justice to prosecute those who are trying to protect preborn human beings,” Cannon said. “To add to that injustice, she was incarcerated when the true violence continues to be committed against innocent children.”

Handy and her co-defendants each face up to 11 years in prison and a fine of up to $350,000. 

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