Elderly pro-life activist sentenced to over two years in prison under FACE Act

Joan Andrews Bell Pro-life activist Joan Andrews Bell listens during a news conference on the five fetuses found inside the home where she and other anti-abortion activists were living on Capitol Hill at a news conference at the Hyatt Regency on April 5, 2022, in Washington, D.C. | Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Joan Andrews Bell, a 76-year-old Catholic and pro-life activist, has been sentenced to over two years in prison for her involvement in a “rescue” at a Washington, D.C., abortion clinic. 

In addition to Bell, three other activists — Jean Marshall, 74, Jonathan Darnel, 42, and Herb Geraghty, 27 — were sentenced on Wednesday. Marshall received a 24-month sentence, Darnel was sentenced to 34 months, and Geraghty received 27 months.

The sentences were given by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. 

According to Terrisa Bukovinac, another pro-life activist who has been posting updates from the courtroom, Bell’s family “cried tears of joy that the sentence wasn’t longer,” while Marshall provided a doctor’s note indicating that she needs a hip replacement due to extreme osteoporosis.

The three were charged with felony crimes involving conspiracy against rights and violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, also known as the FACE Act. According to the Department of Justice, the three activists engaged in a conspiracy to create a blockade of an abortion clinic.

This comes nearly nine months after Bell and eight other pro-life activists were convicted on felony charges of conspiracy against rights and violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act for their involvement in an October 2020 rescue at the Washington Surgi-Clinic run by Dr. Cesare Santangelo.

According to a previous DOJ statement, the activists involved in the rescue used “physical obstruction to injure, intimidate, and interfere with the clinic’s employees and a patient because they were providing or obtaining reproductive health services.”

The DOJ also said the activists “forcefully entered the clinic and set about blockading two clinic doors using their bodies, furniture, chains, and ropes.”

On Tuesday three other activists — Lauren Handy, 30, John Hinshaw, 69, and William Goodman, 54 — also received sentences ranging from nearly five years to just under two years for the same demonstration. Handy received the harshest sentence, four years and nine months, for her role as the organizer.

Martin Cannon, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, which represented Handy, told CNA that they will likely be appealing “most if not all” of the sentences. Any appeals in these cases would go to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. 

“Right now, they’re all convicted felons and that’s worth fighting over,” Cannon said. 

Cannon said he is optimistic they will be able to lessen the sentences. He also pointed out that these cases, especially the sentencing of elderly women and men to years in prison, will bring attention to how the FACE Act is being abused to target pro-lifers. 

He said that the pro-life activists are not discouraged, despite their sentences. 

“I think that this overreach by the federal government, the conviction of these people, is …  going to galvanize people,” he said. “It certainly has not discouraged our clients. It is going to galvanize the pro-life world and give it energy.”

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