4 pro-life protesters found guilty of FACE Act violations in Tennessee

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department building in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24, 2023.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department building in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24, 2023. | STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

Four pro-life Christians in Tennessee were convicted Tuesday of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act for protesting outside a Nashville-area abortion clinic in 2021.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday that a federal judge returned a guilty verdict for Eva Edl, Eva Zastrow, James Zastrow and Paul Place for their protest outside the Carafem Health Center Clinic in Mt. Juliet on March 15, 2021.

The defendants could face up to six months in prison, five years of supervised release and fines of up to $10,000.

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During their protest in 2021, the four gathered with seven others outside the Carafem clinic to pray and sing hymns while urging women entering the facility not to go through with an abortion.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) slapped charges against all 11 defendants in October 2022 for allegedly intimidating and interfering "with employees of the clinic and a patient who was seeking reproductive health services" at the clinic.

During the trial Tuesday, attorneys for the defendants maintained that they were exercising their right to peaceful protest and that the Biden administration was going after "people who were simply expressing their beliefs in a non-violent way," according to The Daily Wire. Lawyers for the DOJ argued that the trial was about the defendants' actions, not their beliefs because their protest violated federal law.

The outlet notes that Middle District of Tennessee Magistrate Judge Chip Frensly deliberated for less than 30 minutes before issuing his ruling against the four.

The other Tennessee protesters charged by the DOJ last fall were similarly convicted in January for FACE Act violations when a federal jury found Paul Vaughn, Chester Gallagher, Heather Idoni, Calvin Zastrow, Coleman Boyd and Dennis Green guilty of blocking access to the facility.

Caroline Davis is the only one of the protesters who escaped conviction after she struck a plea deal to become a government witness during the Tuesday trial, The Daily Wire reports. Other witnesses included a worker at the clinic, a police officer and a woman who had an appointment on the day of the protest.

The other six, who were also charged with civil rights violations, are scheduled for sentencing on July 2 and face up to 10 and a half years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine not to exceed $260,000.

Edl, a native of Eastern Europe who survived a communist concentration camp in the wake of World War II and has been arrested dozens of times for protesting at abortion clinics, remained unafraid before the trial.

"Whatever happens, we are in the Lord's hands," she said, according to The Daily Wire. The defendants gathered outside the courthouse to sing hymns following their convictions.

Former President Donald Trump recently brought up the DOJ's pursuit of the pro-life protesters in Tennessee, claiming it is evidence of a growing anti-Christian agenda that he said resembles communist regimes of the past.

"This is a communist state, just so you understand," Trump said during a speech at the National Religious Broadcasters 2024 International Christian Media Convention in Nashville in February.

"This is the beginning of a communist state, whether it's [my indictments] or any one of another thousand things that are going on," he continued. "This is the only way they're going to be able to stay in office because they're running a regime that is so incompetent. Nobody's ever seen anything like it."

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