3 plead guilty to vandalizing pro-life pregnancy centers in wake of Supreme Court abortion decision

Police say
Police say | Courtesy Portland Police Bureau

Three Florida residents have pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to intimidate staff at pro-life pregnancy centers, disrupting their ability to provide healthcare services, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

According to a statement released by the Department of Justice, Caleb Freestone, Amber Smith-Stewart and Annarella Rivera on Friday admitted to orchestrating a series of attacks on pregnancy resource centers across Florida following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision determining that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t contain a right to abortion.

The ruling and the publication of a leaked draft of the decision by Politico at the time launched a wave of vandalism and arson targeting pro-life pregnancy centers and churches that continued throughout the summer and into the fall.

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The centers in Florida, which advocate for abortion alternatives, became targets for vandalism that included graffiti with menacing messages.

The incidents transpired between May and July 2022, and the defendants executed their attacks under the cover of darkness, the Justice Department said.

Dressed in masks and dark clothing to conceal their identities, they spray-painted various facilities with phrases like, “If abortions aren’t safe than niether [sic] are you,” “YOUR TIME IS UP!!,” “WE’RE COMING for U” and “We are everywhere.”

Such actions were meant to instill fear among the employees of these centers, according to Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Clarke said the department is dedicated to safeguarding lawful access to reproductive health services and upholding civil rights.

U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg referred to the protection federal law provides to both providers and seekers of reproductive health care from threats and intimidation.

The sentencing for Freestone, Smith-Stewart and Rivera is pending, with each facing up to 10 years in prison as determined by a federal district judge who will consider the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Freestone and Smith-Stewart were indicted by a federal grand jury in January 2023, while Gabriella Oropesa and Rivera were indicted in March 2023.

In a detailed recount of the incidents by the Department of Justice, additional charges were brought under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act against Rivera, Freestone and Smith-Stewart. They were charged with using threats of force to intimidate employees of a reproductive health services facility in Winter Haven, as they were providing reproductive health services. The indictment included detailed descriptions of the graffiti and damage caused, which was similarly reported independently by the LifeChoice Pregnancy Center in Winter Haven.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, responded to the indictment of Freestone and Smith-Stewart in a statement at the time.

“These charges are good first steps, but the fight for equal justice is far from over. With a new House GOP majority positioned to exercise its oversight powers, we are finally beginning to see some accountability,” she said. “Congressional Democrats had the opportunity to condemn the violence and all but three refused, and again we have had to call on the White House to stop vilifying pro-life Americans. The pro-life movement is keeping a watchful eye on this administration and we will not be silent in the face of violence and intimidation.”

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