Second trial of DC pro-life activists who staged protest begins

DC babies Washington Surgi-Clinic on F St. NW in Washington, D.C. on April 7, 2022 | Katie Yoder/CNA

The trial of three pro-life activists who staged a sit-in protest at a Washington, D.C., abortion clinic in October 2020 began today, just about one week after five of their peers who also participated in the protest were convicted under a controversial federal statute and a civil rights violation.

If convicted the defendants could face up to 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $350,000 maximum fine. 

Jonathan Darnel of Arlington, Virginia; Jean Marshall of Kingston, Massachusetts; and Joan Bell of Montague, New Jersey, are charged with conspiracy against rights and a Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act offense. 

The FACE Act, which is the same law that pro-life father of seven Mark Houck was charged and acquitted under earlier this year, 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 conspiracy against rights law prohibits the violation of someone’s rights guaranteed to them by the U.S. Constitution.

The indictment in the case says that on Oct. 22, 2020, 10 individuals “conspired with one another and with others known and unknown to obstruct access” to the Washington Surgi-Clinic in Washington, D.C.

“It was the purpose of the conspiracy to create a blockade to stop the clinic from providing and patients from obtaining reproductive health services,” the indictment alleges. 

The indictment says the defendants used “deception” to gain access to the clinic, used “force” to enter, and barricaded themselves inside with “ropes and chains.”

The indictment said that Darnel filmed the protest. A video of the protest is below.

In the over one-hour and 30-minute video of the protest, some of those who sat inside the clinic can be seen praying the rosary and singing hymns to the Blessed Virgin Mary while refusing to leave.

“Pro-life rescuers are entering the doors of an abortion clinic and saving babies from death. This is very risky for the rescuers, but it’s about time we got serious about ending abortion again,” a description of the video reads.

In addition to Darnel, Marshall, and Bell, the other seven named in the indictment were director of activism for the group Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU) Lauren Handy of Alexandria, Virginia; John Hinshaw of Levittown, New York; Heather Idoni of Linden, Michigan; William Goodman of Bronx, New York; Herb Geraghty of Pittsburgh; Paulette Harlow of Kingston, Massachusetts; and Jay Smith of Freeport, New York.

A court document said the court split the defendants into three trials.

The trial of Handy, 28, Hinshaw, 67, Idoni, 61, Goodman, 52, and Geraghty, 25, began on Aug. 9. They were convicted and are currently incarcerated awaiting sentencing. On Oct. 23, Harlow, in her mid-70s, will stand trial alone, according to the document.

Smith, who is in his early 30s, pleaded guilty to a felony FACE Act charge in May. He was sentenced in August to 10 months incarceration followed by thirty six months of supervised release and a special assessment of $100. 

Lawyers for Handy said they plan to appeal her conviction. 

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Handy issued a statement from jail through her organization on Tuesday.

“I know that many in the movement don’t agree with rescue and now consider me useless because I am behind bars. This shows once again how our movement often comes off as gimmicky and inauthentic. This isn’t a numbers game — this is about love. Loving the most useless, abandoned, and unwanted without fear of punishment,” she said.

“My vocation is to love... not to be reduced down to a function for the ‘cause.’ My time in jail is the alabaster jar of perfume pouring out for the rejected and unloved,” she added.

Pro-life leaders across the nation condemned the conviction of the five in August.

The founder of Handy’s group PAAU, Terrisa Bukovinac, said following the decision that the conviction means “that in America it is illegal to peacefully and nonviolently protest infanticide.”

“These rescuers were protecting babies born alive and killed by notorious abortionist Cesare Santangelo ... But Biden’s feds didn’t come for the violent criminal,” Bukovinac said. “No, they came for nonviolent peaceful activists because our commitment to both nonviolence and civil disobedience is what makes us grow.”

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America accused the Biden administration of weaponizing “the full power of the federal government against them” and said the five should be “recognized for their heroism.”

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