Pro-lifers imprisoned under FACE Act speak out

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

After seven pro-life activists were sentenced to years in prison for a “rescue” attempt at a Washington, D.C., abortion clinic, some of the activists are now speaking out. 

Joan Andrews Bell, a 76-year-old Catholic and pro-life activist who was sentenced to two years and three months in prison, shared a statement in which she vowed to continue advocating for the unborn and called on others to join her in prayer. 

“The rougher it gets for us the more we can rejoice that we are succeeding; no longer are we being treated so much as the privileged born, but as the discriminated against conceived child,” Bell said in a statement obtained by CNA. “We do not expect justice in the courts. Furthermore, we do not seek it for ourselves when it is being denied [to] our beloved brothers and sisters.”

She said that she views her prison sentence as “a time of prayer and reparation” for “the sin of abortion in America.”

“God’s timing is perfect,” she concluded. “I may not see any fruits of these simple prayers and acts, but the Lord of all will do what is best. Please pray and do what God wants you to do.”

What is happening? 

Bell and six other pro-lifers were sentenced this week for felony crimes involving conspiracy against rights and violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, also known as the FACE Act. 

Signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, the FACE Act prohibits obstructing access to or destruction of abortion clinics, pregnancy centers, or church property. The law has been criticized by several lawmakers for being unevenly applied against pro-life activists.

The activists sentenced to prison this week are Bell, Lauren Handy, 30, John Hinshaw, 69, William Goodman, 54, Herb Geraghty, 27, Jonathan Darnel, 42, and Jean Marshall, 74. The sentences were given by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. 

According to the Department of Justice, the seven activists engaged in a conspiracy to create a blockade of the Washington Surgi-Clinic operated by Dr. Cesare Santangelo, an abortionist who has been accused of infanticide.

What are the imprisoned pro-lifers saying? 

Handy, who is the director of activism at the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), received the harshest sentence, four years and nine months, because of her role as the demonstration’s organizer.

Following her sentencing, Handy also vowed to continue her pro-life activism, saying: “I reject the use of fear and shame from outside and inside forces as a means to hold us back from loving preborn people as our equals. I reject calls to temper passionate responses to egregious acts of violence.”

“I embrace courage over comfort and right over easy. I embrace the uncertainty in a future full of hope. I embrace tenderness, joy, and love for my preborn neighbors,” Handy continued.

Hinshaw, 69, who has been sentenced to one year and nine months in prison, also issued a statement in which he referenced “the D.C. five,” five late-term babies whose mutilated bodies were found by PAAU outside the Washington Surgi-Clinic. 

He asked why his granddaughter who was born at 32 weeks could be treasured while babies at the same stage are killed and left in the trash. 

“There is a reason why today’s Gospel reading is to lay down one’s life for his friends. This is not a coincidence,” he went on. “I stand convicted, though guiltless. I take on the guilt of this judge. Accept my love for you, judge, as expiation for your guilt.”

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‘A type of Lent’

Chris Bell, Joan Andrews Bell’s husband of 32 years, told CNA that he has not been able to see his wife since she was convicted and imprisoned in August 2023. 

According to Chris, while incarcerated at the Alexandria Detention Center in Northern Virginia, Joan has been kept away from her family. He said that despite her imprisonment, she is in “very good” spirits and is viewing her sentence as “a type of Lent.” 

Now that she has been sentenced, he expects she will be moved to another prison, but he has no idea where she will be sent. In the meantime, he said that her entire family is offering up their suffering for the unborn alongside her. 

“We have seven children, seven born grandchildren, and one grandchild about to be born. They are all deeply missing her,” he explained. “It’s really hard to know that your mother, your grandmother is in prison because she did something good. It’s just hard to know that she is separated from them. So, it’s hard. That’s part of our offering up to God.”  

Chris Bell said they are praying not only for the unborn but also for the judge, the abortionist, and all those advancing a pro-abortion agenda. 

“She knows that she’s doing this for our sins and the sins of abortion, so that keeps her focused and allows her to, even in this predicament, find God’s will and feel supported by that,” he explained. 

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“When you’re doing God’s will, no matter how difficult the circumstances are, you find a deep peace. It can be challenging, but there’s a deep peace.” 

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