Federal judge refuses to release convicted pro-life protesters

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A federal judge denied pro-life campaigner Lauren Handy’s motion to be released from jail pending her sentencing hearing, saying the protest action at an abortion clinic for which she was convicted was a “crime of violence.”

Ms. Handy, who was convicted by a jury on Aug. 29 of conspiring to obstruct access to an abortion clinic in Washington, was incarcerated pending sentencing, according to the order of Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia. The judge was appointed in 1997 by President Bill Clinton.

Ms. Handy and her four co-defendants were immediately taken into custody to be detained until sentencing, which could be months away. Each defendant faces up to 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $350,000.

Ms. Handy is currently being held at the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria, Virginia, according to court documents.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly denied the emergency motion from Aug. 30 late in the day on Aug. 31. In her memorandum opinion and order, she wrote that in addition to convicting Ms. Handy and her four co-defendants, the jury found “that each Defendant used force to prevent access to or provision of reproductive health services at the clinic at issue.”

“The jury further found that, in addition to force, Defendants also used physical obstruction. Based on this special finding, the Court concluded that Defendants had been found guilty of a ‘crime of violence’ within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. [section] 3156(a)(4)(A).”

“Defendants argue that 18 U.S.C. [section] 248, commonly called the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (or FACE Act), is not categorically a crime of violence, because a defendant may violate the statute through nonviolent means.

“Though a point well taken, the Court concludes that the FACE Act creates distinct offenses, some of which are crimes of violence. Because the jury clearly convicted each Defendant on a sub-offense exclusively criminalizing violence against person or property, the Court shall deny the … Emergency Motions for Reconsideration.”

Ms. Handy’s attorneys had argued in the motion that she was “entitled to … emergency reconsideration” regarding immediate incarceration because “under federal statute and binding precedents from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, the [FACE Act] is not categorically a ‘crime of violence[.]’”

Later on Aug. 31, Ms. Handy’s attorneys filed a notice with the district court indicating they were appealing the denial of the emergency motion to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

It is unclear when the circuit court will consider the appeal.

‘Conspiracy Against Rights’

In the case, the defendants were convicted of “conspiracy against rights” and conspiracy under the FACE Act.

The FACE Act has been criticized by federal lawmakers, including Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who has said the Biden administration enforces the law selectively against pro-life activists.

Critics reject the “conspiracy against rights” charge because there is no constitutional right to an abortion, as the Supreme Court determined in June 2022. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the nation’s highest court reversed the 1973 Roe v. Wade precedent and returned the regulation of abortion to the states.

The defendants were indicted in 2022 for conspiring to obstruct access to the Washington Surgi-Clinic, which provides abortions, in October 2020. The indictment states that “it was the purpose of the conspiracy to create a blockade to stop the Clinic from providing, and patients from obtaining, reproductive health services.”

Some in the pro-life movement refer to this kind of direct-action tactic as a “rescue” because it may save an unborn human’s life.

After Ms. Handy was convicted, one of her lawyers, Steve Crampton, senior counsel at the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm, criticized the verdict and the treatment his client received.

“In an unexpected twist, the Court found that because the violation of FACE—in this case—was a crime of ‘violence,’ all five defendants must be immediately incarcerated. So, the defendants were led out of the courtroom by an army of U.S. Marshals. This is an outrage, and the one thing the defendants had really agreed upon was to remain non-violent.

“The real violence is what happens during the abortion procedure,” he said at the time.

Ms. Handy intends to appeal the conviction.

Ms. Handy is the director of activism for Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, which describes its mission as mobilizing “grassroots anti-abortion activists for direct action and [to] educate on the exploitative influence of the Abortion Industrial Complex through an anti-capitalist lens.”

After being sentenced to jail time on a separate charge in July 2022, Ms. Handy said, “As a Catholic and progressive myself, I am compelled by my deeply held beliefs (religious and political) to put my body between the oppressed and the oppressor.”

The Epoch Times has reached out for comment to the U.S. Department of Justice and Ms. Handy’s attorneys.

This article by Matthew Vadum appeared Sept. 1, 2023, in The Epoch Times.

Photo: Lauren Handy, director of activism for Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, in an undated photo. (Courtesy Thomas More Society)