Pro-life activist Lauren Handy to serve nearly 5 years in prison for DC abortion facility blockade

Lauren Handy, the director of activism at Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), speaks during a March 2023 rally in Washington, D.C.
Lauren Handy, the director of activism at Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), speaks during a March 2023 rally in Washington, D.C. | The Christian Post/ Nicole Alcindor

WASHINGTON — A federal judge sentenced pro-life advocate Lauren Handy to nearly five years in prison for organizing a blockade at an abortion facility in the nation's capital. As a result, Handy’s legal team has vowed to challenge what it believes is the “root cause” of the activist’s conviction: the FACE Act. 

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who was nominated to the federal bench by former President Bill Clinton, sentenced Handy on Tuesday to four years and nine months in prison. Handy, the director of activism and mutual aid for the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, was one of several activists found guilty in August of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. 

On Oct. 22, 2020, Handy and fellow activists carried out a plan to prevent the Washington Surgi-Clinic from committing abortions that day. Several of the activists used chains, ropes and bike locks to tie themselves together, as well as their bodies to block access to the facility. 

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Prosecutors had recommended a sentence of at least six years for Handy, referring to the activist as the “criminal mastermind” behind the October 2020 blockade and similar past actions.

One of Handy’s attorneys, Martin Cannon, had an opportunity to speak before Kollar-Kotelly announced the activist’s sentence. The senior counsel for the Thomas More Society compared Handy’s actions to the peaceful protests conducted by Martin Luther King Jr. 

The defense lawyers had requested before the day of sentencing that Handy be allowed to serve a sentence of no more than 12 months. Before the sentence came down, Cannon also told the judge that the activist has already served time in jail since August 2023. 

“There was only one thing around which Ms. Handy and her co-defendants were unified, and that was nonviolence. They conspired to be peaceful,” the attorney said in a statement provided to The Christian Post, announcing the legal team’s plans to appeal.

“Yet, today, the court granted the Biden Department of Justice its wish by sentencing Ms. Handy to 57 months — nearly five years in prison,” Handy’s attorney continued. “For her efforts to peacefully protect the lives of innocent preborn human beings, Ms. Handy deserves thanks, not a gut-wrenching prison sentence.”

Speaking before the judge, Cannon described Handy as “nice,” adding that the pro-lifer acted on her “good-faith belief that another life was at stake” and that was “important” to consider when determining how much time Handy should serve in prison. 

“These are good people who wouldn’t hurt anybody on purpose,” Cannon said about Handy and the other activists. “Lauren has done enough time. Send Lauren home. Send them all home.”

Kollar-Kotelly stated during the sentencing that Handy was not being punished for her views on abortion. The judge acknowledged that there have been protests for and against abortion for decades and that Americans have the right to protest peacefully. 

“The law does not protect violent and obstructive conduct, nor should it,” Kollar-Kotelly said.

The judge highlighted a victim impact letter from a nurse who worked at the abortion facility who stated that she injured her ankle when the activists pushed their way into the center. Two women had also arrived at the Washington Surgi-Clinic on the day of the blockade to obtain abortions. 

Prior to sentencing, Kollar-Kotelly said she reviewed the security footage of the October 2020 blockade, stating that she found it “disheartening.” The judge acknowledged that Handy and her fellow activists have strong views against abortion, but felt they put those views before the women who came to the facility to obtain abortions.

One of the women who came to the Washington Surgi-Clinic for an abortion on Oct. 22, 2020, reportedly collapsed on the floor and was in need of medical attention. Another woman climbed through a receptionist window to evade the activists blocking the door.

“Neither you nor any of the other co-conspirators showed any compassion or empathy toward those two women needing medical care,” Kollar-Kotelly said of their abortions. “Your views took precedence over, frankly, their human needs.”

The judge stated that she heard Handy has a reputation for being “compassionate,” adding that the activist did not “exhibit” this trait on the day of the blockade. 

In addition to time in prison, Handy will serve three years of supervised release. Kollar-Kotelly said Handy will not be permitted to come within a certain number of feet of an abortion facility unless she is there for an appointment or she has received permission from a probation officer. 

After the federal judge handed down the sentence, multiple pro-life advocates present in the courtroom stood and applauded as Handy was led away. Some of the advocates shouted, “You’re a hero, Lauren!” 

Reacting to the decision, PAAU founder Terrisa Bukovinac declared that the Biden administration and United States Attorney General Merrick Garland have “reached a new level of tyranny.” The pro-life leader contended that pro-life advocates face a different level of punishment than activists involved in other social justice movements.

"This blatant viewpoint discrimination has incalculable consequences for babies, their parents, those who defend them, and for peaceful activists across movements worldwide,” Bukovinac said in a statement to CP. “I continue to stand by Lauren and the other eight defendants who risked their freedoms to stand in defense of the least of us.”

Caroline Smith, PAAU’s executive director, said in a Tuesday statement to CP that “the abortion industry wants to scare, intimidate, fear-monger, and isolate us.” 

“But what they don’t know is we have a radical hope that goes beyond the concrete walls of both prisons and abortuaries,” she said. “I believe the oppression that the DOJ is expressing right now will absolutely backfire on them in the near future. Oppression always backfires, especially when your motivation is blood money. Abortion is murder, and fetuses are people, and nothing will stop rescue.” 

Handy also released a statement Tuesday reflecting on the nine months she has already served and her struggles with figuring out what to say after she was “ripped away from her community.” The pro-life activist declared that she refuses to become “jaded” despite all that has happened. 

“Why? Because life goes on ... even in jail. So I might as well continue to love and cry and scream and dance. That is joy,” the PAAU leader said in a statement provided to CP. “The feeling of being fully alive without shame. Which is something no court can take from me. So today, I am at peace with myself and my future. I will go into court with my head held high and my heart open.”

Live Action founder Lila Rose also reacted to the news of Handy’s sentencing on Tuesday, describing it as “A grave injustice!” 

“Meanwhile, abortionists who dismember and kill children walk free,” Rose stated. 

Penny Nance, the CEO of the conservative group Concerned Women for America, also described the sentencing of the PAAU activist as an “injustice.” In a Tuesday X post, Nance called for the repeal of the FACE Act, arguing that it is an “unconstitutional breach of the "state’s police power” and that the Biden administration has used it to “attack political opponents.”

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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