Pro-life activist convicted for abortion clinic blockade seeks emergency release

Lauren Handy (R), director of activism at Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), and PAAU Executive Director Caroline Taylor Smith (L) speak during a press conference in March 2023.
Lauren Handy (R), director of activism at Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), and PAAU Executive Director Caroline Taylor Smith (L) speak during a press conference in March 2023. | The Christian Post/Nicole Alcindor

Lawyers for a pro-life activist found guilty of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act by organizing a blockade at a Washington, D.C., abortion facility made an emergency request for the activist to be released from jail while she awaits sentencing. 

A jury found pro-life activist Lauren Handy and four other defendants guilty on Tuesday of a conspiracy against "rights" and violating the FACE Act for their role in a blockade at the Washington Surgi-Clinic in October 2020.

Handy stood trial alongside activists Heather Idoni, William Goodman, John Hinshaw and Herb Geraghty. Another group of defendants involved in the same blockade will stand trial next.

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Following the verdict, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered that all five defendants be immediately taken into custody as they await sentencing because they had been convicted of a crime of violence. The defendants were then led out of the courtroom by U.S. Marshals. 

The Thomas More Society, a nonprofit law firm representing Handy, filed an emergency motion Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In the motion, the activist's attorneys argued that the FACE Act is not "categorically" a crime of violence. 

"Specifically, the government can prove a completed FACE violation by showing, in part, that the defendant engaged in 'physical obstruction' regardless of whether the person used actual or threatened force," the motion reads. "The Act specifically distinguishes 'physical obstruction' from 'force' and 'threat of force,' defining 'physical obstruction' to mean 'rendering impassable ingress to or egress from a' reproductive health facility, or rendering such passage 'unreasonably difficult or hazardous.'"

Handy's defense team contends the activist and the other defendants are not a "flight risk," nor do they pose a danger to their community and should be allowed to await sentencing under a more lenient provision. 

According to the motion, Handy and the defendants have been on pre-trial release since they were arrested in March 2022 for their actions at the D.C. abortion facility. The attorneys argued that, during this time, the defendants did not demonstrate that they were a flight risk or a dangerous threat; if they were, they would've never been eligible for pre-trial release. 

"Ms. Handy is a prominent national nonprofit leader," the motion states. "In 2017, she founded Mercy Missions, a mutual aid organization dedicated to helping families and mothers in crisis pregnancies and providing survival aid for houseless people." 

"Her charitable work and desire to help people and particularly families have led to previous arrests and charges for, primarily, trespassing," the document continues. "There is no evidence that Ms. Handy poses a danger to the safety of any person or the community." 

In a Tuesday statement to The Christian Post, Martin Cannon, senior counsel at TMS, said that he was "disappointed" in the outcome but indicated that the law firm plans to appeal. Steve Crampton, senior counsel at TMS, noted how the FACE Act is considered a crime of "violence," but he asserted that the "real violence is what happens during the abortion procedure." 

The FACE Act, signed into law in 1994, makes it a federal crime to block or use intimidation to prevent people from receiving an abortion or reproductive health services.

During the trial, the prosecution described Handy as the leader of the blockade at the Washington Surgi-Clinic. A trial brief describes how some defendants tied themselves together with ropes, chains and locks and used furniture to stop people from entering the facility. One patient who testified under a pseudonym during the trial said she crawled through a receptionist window to evade the activists. 

In addition to the March 2022 indictment, Handy made headlines at the same time for having unborn human remains recovered from the Washington Surgi-Clinic. However, no charges were filed in connection with her having them. 

Handy is the director of activism and mutual aid for the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), the group that obtained 115 human remains from the facility, including five full-term babies. PAAU has repeatedly called for an investigation into some of the remains to determine if they were aborted in a manner that violated federal law.

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

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