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Republican lawmakers decry FBI's 'open war on pro-life activists'

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A pedestrian walks past a seal reading "Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation," displayed on the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building, in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 15, 2022. |

Republican lawmakers are seeking answers from the FBI regarding what they see as the selective enforcement of federal law as arrests of pro-life activists make national headlines. 

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, along with 38 of their colleagues, wrote a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray Wednesday. In the letter, the elected officials expressed concern about “the continued politicization” of the law enforcement agency, specifically “the recent rise in high-profile FBI investigations into pro-life Americans.”

The letter listed examples of recent arrests of pro-life activists for purported violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. The FACE Act subjects federal charges on anyone who “intentionally injures, intimidates, or interferes with or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person” seeking to obtain or provide abortions. Violators face a maximum penalty of 11 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

The letter highlighted the Sept. 23 arrest of Mark Houck, who was indicted by a federal grand jury for “allegedly pushing an abortion clinic volunteer, who had harassed his [12-year-old] son.” The incident that led to Houck’s arrest in an early-morning raid on his home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, occurred last year at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia as the pro-life activist and his son gathered to pray outside the abortion facility. The letter noted that Houck’s “arrest occurred despite the fact the charges had been dismissed by local authorities.”

A separate arrest of a pro-life activist cited as a violation of the FACE Act identified in the letter stemmed from a Minnesota encounter at a Planned Parenthood clinic that involved a client at the abortion clinic attempting to cut up a pro-life activist’s sign, resulting in the woman pushing her away. While charges were dismissed in Minnesota state court, the FBI has pursued an indictment anyway.

In yet another case, a priest in New York state is facing FACE Act charges even though local authorities already sentenced the man. “These are not federal law enforcement matters and represent an abuse of the FACE Act,” the Republican lawmakers wrote. “During floor debate on the legislation, Representative [Patricia] Schroeder of Colorado, a co-sponsor of the FACE Act, argued that empowering the federal government through the FACE Act was only necessary ‘if the states cannot help, then we have a duty to move in.’”

Schroeder, as quoted in the letter, insisted that “we do not do it unless it appears the states cannot handle it.” According to Schroeder, “the federal government does not move in until it appears that in some parts of the country there is a breakdown.”

“Overzealous prosecutions under the FACE Act weaponize the power of federal law enforcement against American citizens in what should firmly be state and local matters,” the letter added. “Further, these abuses of federal power against pro-life Americans based solely on their beliefs undermine the American people’s trust in the FBI.”

The lawmakers concluded the letter by requesting a briefing on the FBI’s application of the FACE Act by Oct. 20 and seeking information about the number of investigations the FBI had opened up under the FACE Act in each of the years dating back to 2019. Additionally, the letter asked FBI officials to provide statistics about how many of the FACE Act investigations in the relevant years dealt with abortion facilities, pregnancy centers and churches or houses of worship. 

This line of questioning reflects that the FACE Act also prohibits “attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person lawfully exercising or seeking to exercise the First Amendment right of religious freedom at a place of religious worship.”

Additional questions posed to the FBI include inquiries into “how many of these cases involve subjects with charges previously dismissed or sentenced by state courts” and what criteria the FBI uses when deciding “whether to open a case under the FACE Act that was previously dismissed by state courts.”

The lawmakers also pressed the FBI for quantification of the amount of resources the FBI is using on FACE Act investigations as well as the existence of any “new guidance, memos, or internal correspondence regarding FACE Act investigations” since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization determining that the U.S. Constitution did not contain a right to abortion. 

Pro-life pregnancy centers and churches have faced vandalism following the Dobbs decision and the letter contended that federal law enforcement has failed to adequately respond to those attacks while working swiftly to take legal action against pro-life activists engaged in “non-violent civil disobedience.” 

Congressman Roy elaborated on his concerns about the FBI’s enforcement of the FACE Act in a statement last week. “I am outraged by the Biden administration’s open war on pro-life activists and weaponization of federal law enforcement against patriotic Americans for their beliefs,” he said. Referring to Houck’s arrest, Roy proclaimed, “This administration has a lot of explaining to do when protecting one’s own child means armed FBI agents at the door.”

At a protest calling for the impeachment of U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland over what they view as his abuse of the FACE Act, Randall Terry of the pro-life advocacy group Operation Rescue suggested that the FACE Act is working exactly as intended. “When Bill Clinton was elected, he appointed Janet Reno as his attorney general,” Terry explained. “When she came up to the microphone in her press conference, she said one of her top priorities was to break the back of Operation Rescue.” 

Terry stressed that the FACE Act was “always designed to isolate people of faith who wanted to defend the unborn.” 

In a previous interview with The Christian Post, Terry recalled that before the law’s passage in 1994, hundreds of people would blockade abortion clinics for an entire day. Now that those actions come with federal charges, such large-scale protests no longer take place. Terry told CP that “once that law was passed, it effectively broke the back of our movement.”

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

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