Lawyers for a pro-life campaigner jailed over a Washington abortion clinic protest filed an emergency appeal seeking her release, arguing that the trial judge was wrong to rule the disruptive activity was a “crime of violence.”
Lauren Handy, who was convicted by a jury on Aug. 29 of conspiring to obstruct access to an abortion clinic in the nation’s capital, was ordered incarcerated pending sentencing by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The judge was appointed in 1997 by President Bill Clinton.
Ms. Handy and her four co-defendants who were tried together 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.
One of Ms. Handy’s lawyers, Stephen Crampton, senior counsel at the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm, told The Epoch Times that an appeal of the incarceration order has been filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
A sentencing hearing hasn’t even been scheduled yet, Mr. Crampton said in an interview.
“We have what’s called a rule 29 motion where we’re moving for judgment, notwithstanding the verdict,” he said.
“We’re saying, basically, as a matter of law, you can’t get there. That briefing extends into October.”
And another four co-defendants, who are part of the same case, will be tried in a separate trial that begins next week, he said.
Ms. Handy and the cohort of co-defendants in her trial were convicted of “conspiracy against rights” and conspiracy under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (or FACE Act), which has been criticized by federal lawmakers. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) 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.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly rejected a post-trial emergency motion to release the defendants before sentencing. The jury found “that each Defendant used force to prevent access to or provision of reproductive health services at the clinic at issue,” she wrote in her Aug. 31 order.
This meant that the “Defendants had been found guilty of a ‘crime of violence’ within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. [section] 3156(a)(4)(A),” she wrote.
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,” a violation of the FACE Act “is not categorically a ‘crime of violence.’”
Mr. Crampton said the jurors were given a special verdict form asking if they found the defendants used force and physical obstruction during the clinic protest.
“The judge had agreed with the prosecution to insert a special interrogatory for the jury to say whether they found that each defendant acted by force or violated FACE by force and/or by physical obstruction.”
The jury came back and found all the defendants used force and physical obstruction, even though one defendant who actually pled guilty, Jay Smith, took responsibility for injuring a clinic worker, Mr. Crampton said.
Prosecutors said Mr. Smith “forcefully backed into the clinic” and in the process caused a nurse “to stumble and sprain her ankle.”
Mr. Smith accepted a plea deal. On Aug. 7, he was sentenced to 10 months of incarceration to be followed by 36 months of supervised release, court records indicate.
“So there’s the government tacitly recognizing not all the defendants had anything to do with this lady who twisted her ankle,” Mr. Crampton said.
But on the basis of the jury form, “the judge on her own, went and researched the statutes and said, ‘Oh, well, then I think that’s a crime of violence. I need to take them all into custody,’” the lawyer said.
Force and violence are not necessarily the same thing legally, he said.
“So for instance, I can use force by running into the door. … But I don’t necessarily have to entail violence in that action because if nobody’s there, and I don’t run into anybody, there’s no violence that results,” he said.
“We believe the FACE Act contemplates just that sort of distinction—not all use of force is necessarily violent. And that’s really the heart of our argument to the appeals court right now.”
Ms. Handy, who is also appealing her conviction itself, 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 reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“We are declining comment on this,” spokesperson Aryele Bradford said by email.
This article by Matthew Vadum appeared Sept. 8, 2023, in The Epoch Times.
Photo: Lauren Handy, director of activism for Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, in an undated photo. (Courtesy Thomas More Society)