In the picturesque neighborhood of Foggy Bottom in northwest Washington, D.C., a feeling of history and purpose follows you. The State Department and the Federal Reserve buildings line the streets. George Washington University occupies over 40 acres in the center of the community. But on F street, on the same block as GW dormitories, sits the Washington Surgi-Clinic, an abortion facility run by Cesare Santangelo, who performs gruesome late-term abortions on nearly full-term children.
At this facility an investigator from my organization, Live Action, recorded Santangelo describing—in his own words—his willingness to withhold medical care from infants born alive after a botched abortion, a violation of federal law. This investigation has inspired thousands to take action to defend innocent human life and protect children from abortion, including five pro-life activists who have been convicted of conspiracy to interfere with civil rights and violations of the FACE Act in connection with a rescue action at the Surgi-Clinic abortion facility in October 2020.
Facing over 10 years in federal prison, Lauren Handy, Will Goodman, John Hinshaw, Heather Idoni, and Herb Geraghty are currently detained in prison without bail as they await sentencing. This trial was a sham and made a mockery of our justice system. These activists are heroes who used nonviolent direct action to strive for justice, and the Biden Department of Justice (DOJ) has acted capriciously and illegitimately. For justice to prevail, this decision must be appealed and overturned, Congress must conduct vigorous oversight of the DOJ, and ultimately, the FACE Act must be repealed.
Nonviolent direct action has played an essential role in enacting positive social change in the United States and across the globe. It is a unique power to peacefully challenge grave wrongs and bring tension to the surface. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” that “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” This nonviolent direct action forced our country to reckon with and take steps to end the horrors of discrimination and segregation. That same passion and energy should be commended when it is used to save mothers and children from abortion.
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The Biden administration is now jailing Americans for nonviolent direct action.
The FACE Act, or Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, was designed to levy unusually draconian punishments against pro-life activists in particular. Imagine making Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s nonviolent direct actions—such as sit-ins—a federal crime, and declaring his work in concert with other civil rights activists a conspiracy punishable by a decade or more in prison. That absurd notion should upset our consciences.
The FACE Act allows judges to impose fines of up to $10,000 and six months of prison on first-time protesters engaging in nonviolent physical obstruction, such as sit-ins or blockades. Second convictions for these kinds of acts could see fines of up to $25,000 and jail time of up to 18 months. Additionally, the FACE Act allows federal conspiracy charges to be brought against defendants alongside the FACE Act violation itself. That means, in cases like the Surgi-Clinic one, defendants are charged with violating the FACE Act and conspiracy to violate the FACE Act, which carries a massive 10-year potential prison sentence on its own. These activists—who are dedicated to protecting human life—are now facing 11 years in federal prison if they receive the maximum sentence.
While the FACE Act itself is an unjust law, this trial in particular was overseen by an ideologically pro-abortion judge who did not conduct herself in a fair or impartial manner. To understand one egregiously biased decision this judge made, consider the Live Action investigation of the abortion facility these activists chose to protest.
In 2012, a Live Action undercover investigation showed Dr. Santangelo admitting that any children accidentally born alive during abortions at his facility would not receive medical assistance to help them survive—neglect that is illegal under the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act.
The investigation further confirmed that Dr. Santangelo performs abortions by cutting the umbilical cord and waiting for the child to die, drastically increasing the chance that a child may be born alive and then killed, which is also illegal under the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. Some of these activists—Lauren Handy, in particular—credited the Live Action video with educating and galvanizing them into action. This video was a key reason the defendants chose the D.C. facility as the location for their peaceful demonstration.
Lauren Handy’s legal team attempted to submit this video into evidence, emphasizing that it was the primary motivation for choosing Santangelo’s facility for the protest. But the judge refused. Both U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly and DOJ prosecutors claimed the video was “heavily edited,” calling it “gossip from propagandists.”
The blatant bias of this judge could not be more evident. Live Action’s reporting is accurate. The video in question was simply a recording of Dr. Santenglo speaking in his own words. The full, uncut footage is available and has been for a decade. It is a violation of justice not to allow evidence showing the crimes of the abortionist, which inspired these activists to take action. If the Department of Justice was truly committed to accomplishing its mandate, it would turn its scrutiny toward Cesare Santangelo. Instead, the Biden DOJ is nothing more than an abortion interest group, albeit one with the power of ruining lives and bringing decades-long prison charges.
The conviction of these activists is a farce and must be overturned. Additional activists who were present during the protest are facing similar charges in D.C. during their ongoing trial, and we can expect those proceedings to be just as unfair, as they will be presided over by the same judge. Leaders in Congress who value freedom of speech and the right to life must ask the Biden administration tough questions and hold it accountable for targeting political enemies.
The FACE Act also must be repealed; the pro-life movement should rally to this goal, and pro-life presidential candidates should campaign on it along with a promise to pardon these activists. Nonviolent direct action is a crucial part of any successful social movement that seeks radical change, and these activists are heroes for putting their own freedom at risk in the name of justice.
LifeNews Note: Lila Rose is the president of Live Action, a new media nonprofit dedicated to ending abortion and building a culture of life.
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