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DOJ indicts atheist pro-life activist in connection with abortion clinic blockade

Department of Justice
The exterior of the U.S. Department of Justice headquarters building in Washington, July 14, 2009. |

The U.S. Department of Justice indicted a 10th pro-life activist in connection to a 2020 blockade of a Washington, D.C. abortion clinic as Republican lawmakers contend the agency may be misusing its power to target opponents of legal abortion. 

A federal grand jury in the District of Columbia indicted Herb Geraghty of Pennsylvania, an atheist who serves as the executive director of the nonpartisan pro-life organization Rehumanize International, for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act by participating in a blockade of an abortion clinic in the nation's capital on Oct. 22, 2020.

Herb Geraghty
Pro-life activist Herb Geraghty speaks at the 22nd Annual Cardinal O'Connor Conference in January 2021. |

Nine other pro-life activists were previously indicted in connection to the same event: Lauren Handy, 28, of Alexandria, Virginia; Joan Bell, 74, of Montague, New Jersey; Jonathan Darnel, 40, of Arlington, Virginia; William Goodman, 52, of Bronx, New York; Paulette Harlow, 73, of Kingston, Massachusetts; John Hinshaw, 67, of Levittown, New York; Heather Idoni, 61, of Linden, Michigan; Jean Marshall, 72, of Kingston, Massachusetts; and Jay Smith, 32, of Freeport, New York.

The FACE Act subjects anyone who "intentionally injures, intimidates, or interferes with or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person" seeking to obtain or "provide reproductive health services" to federal charges. Geraghty and the nine other pro-life activists face up to 11 years in prison and a fine of up to $260,000 if convicted.

The announcement of Geraghty's indictment restates the charges laid out in the previous indictment of the nine other defendants, specifically that they "engaged in a conspiracy to create a blockade at the reproductive health care clinic to prevent the clinic from providing, and patients from receiving, reproductive health services."

According to the indictment, Geraghty and co-defendants traveled from out of state, "forcefully entered the clinic and set about blockading two clinic doors using their bodies, furniture, chains and ropes."

The document characterized their actions as violating the FACE Act by "using a physical obstruction to injure, intimidate and interfere with the clinic's employees at a patient, because they were providing or obtaining reproductive health services."

"According to the superseding indictment, as part of the conspiracy, Geraghty communicated with Handy to plan the blockade. Handy made lodging arrangements for her co-conspirators from Michigan, New York, and Boston, and she obtained a monetary donation to pay for an Airbnb reservation for herself and Geraghty," the Justice Department's statement adds. 

The Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, another progressive pro-life advocacy group where Geraghty serves as a founding board member, claimed in a Twitter thread Friday that the 25-year-old's indictment "is part of the Biden administration's ongoing persecution of nonviolent anti-abortion activists and leaders." The group states that Geraghty is the first atheist to be charged with alleged FACE Act violations.

"For nearly three decades since FACE was enacted in 1994, it has rarely been used to prosecute life advocates. Yet in 2022 alone, under the Biden/Garland DOJ, there have been at least 22 peaceful pro-life activists indicted under the act." 

PAAU contends that while the DOJ charged the defendants with conspiring to "deny civil rights," the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this year that abortion is not a constitutional right.

While the indictment of the nine other pro-life activists came in March, before the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision reversing the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that declared abortion a constitutional right, Geraghty's indictment takes place nearly four months after the court made that determination.

Geraghty's indictment is the latest example of actions taken by the DOJ and the FBI that have caused pro-life activists concern. The event pro-lifers cite as the most troubling is the Sept. 23 arrest of pro-life activist Mark Houck at his home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Houck is the founder of The King's Men, a ministry that seeks to "build up other men in the mold of leader, protector, and provider through education, formation, healing and action."

As the DOJ laid out in a statement announcing Houck's arrest, court documents associated with Houck's indictment assert that Houck "twice assaulted a man because he was a volunteer reproductive health care clinic escort" at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia, requiring him to receive medical attention.

A fundraiser set up by the Houck family provides a different account of what happened outside the Philadelphia Planned Parenthood on Oct. 13, 2021.

"Last year, Mark and his son were praying in front of the PP at 12th and Locust. When one of the escorts began harassing Mark's son they walked down the street away from the entrance to the building. The escort followed them, and when he continued yelling at Mark's son, Mark pushed him away." 

The fundraiser page also claims a team of FBI officers arrested Houck with guns drawn in front of his wife and seven young children. While the fundraiser page claims SWAT team "burst into" Houck's home, the FBI contends that no SWAT team was involved and that agents knocked on the door and presented a warrant for his arrest. 

Houck's arrest sparked outrage from lawmakers on Capitol Hill and pro-life activist groups. In a previous interview with The Christian Post, PAAU President Terrisa Bukovinac indicated that Houck's arrest motivated her to lead a protest at DOJ headquarters earlier this month, calling for the resignation of Attorney General Merrick Garland.  

Two days before news of Geraghty's indictment broke, a group of 40 members of Congress sent a letter to the FBI asking for statistics about the law enforcement agency's interpretation of the FACE Act. In the letter, lawmakers suggested that the FBI was engaged in "abuses of federal power against pro-life Americans based solely on their beliefs," citing Houck's arrest as an example of this phenomenon.  

Earlier this month, 11 pro-life activists were charged in connection to an abortion clinic blockade in Tennessee. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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