The FACE ACT

In early 1993, Representatives Chuck Schumer and Constance Morella sponsored the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act‚ or FACE, for short. Ted Kennedy sponsored the Senate version of the bill. This bill was introduced as a direct response to protests and rescues that were happening across the country. There were a few people within the pro-life movement who were violent, and a few even murdered abortion doctors in cold blood. Those actions fueled the intensity and urgency of discussions within Congress. With the addition of a clause that gave places of religious worship the same protections as abortion mills, the FACE Act passed both the House and the Senate with bipartisan support.

And so, the tactics that were seen to be so effective in the late 80s and early 90s became a federal crime, and the pro-abortion lobby achieved its goal of painting the entire pro-life community as violent and unreasonable.

There were a few versions of the bill, with an early version prohibiting any hindering of access to clinics. That was rewritten because of the difficulty of defining what would constitute hindering and possible First Amendment issues should the legislation ever be challenged in court. However, it's worth noting that in a recent opinion from the Sixth Circuit Court, we find the following text:
"The United States submits that the FACE Act should be broadly interpreted to include all forms of physical obstructions to clinic access, even where those obstructions are temporary, incomplete, or do not employ particular tactics."

Reference FEMHEALTH USA, INC. v. WILLIAMS, et al.
Case 3:22-cv-00565
Document 65
Page 6 of 8
Page ID# 502

This is a bit concerning, to say the least. It sounds like a temporary and incomplete obstruction could be defined as almost any physical presence or protest.

As we look at the political landscape today, it is very different than the 80s and 90s. Almost any political view from then would be viewed as pretty moderate today, and most of the liberals would be considered conservative. And in June of 2022, four months before the FBI raided Paul Vaughan, the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Many people thought that meant that there were no more federal protection for abortion, but that's not exactly the case. There is still the FACE Act, which had actually gone through the proper legislative channels and passed both Houses of Congress. It doesn't enshrine the right to an abortion per se, but it does protect the right to access or provide reproductive health care services without a threat of physical obstruction, intimidation, or interference.

In short, Roe v. Wade directly protected what the FACE Act indirectly protects. Moving forward, I think we can expect to see an increase in FACE Act prosecutions, as well as attempts to establish case law expanding the definition of what constitutes a violation of the FACE Act.

One of the only reasons the FACE Act passed both Houses of Congress is that it has very strict limitations on the maximum severity of punishment for violations. For first-time, non-violent offenses, the charge is a misdemeanor, and the penalty is not to exceed more than six months in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. A recent and unexpected move by the DOJ was the addition of conspiracy charges to certain FACE Act violation charges. There are two main types of conspiracy charges at the federal level. There is the common Title 18 U.S. Code 371, "Conspiracy to Commit Offense or Defraud the United States" charge. Under a 371 conspiracy conviction, the punishment cannot be more severe than the maximum punishment for the original offense.

Then, there is the other conspiracy charge, the one that the DOJ is tacking onto the FACE violation charges. A Title 18 U.S. Code 241, "Conspiracy Against Civil Rights" charge. Regardless of the original offense, a 241 conspiracy charge is always a felony. The maximum penalty is ten years in federal prison and much heftier fines in the range of $250,000. This new strategy for combining FACE Act violation charges with a 241 conspiracy against rights charge is first laid out in a DOJ journal from March of 2022. (Volume 70, beginning on page 277)

As it sits today, there are multiple landmark cases that are about to be tried that could dramatically affect the outlook of pro-life ministry in the United States. We don't actually know what the penalties under a conviction with this new strategy will be. The group of pro-life advocates from a recent trial in Washington, DC is set to be sentenced in May, so it's likely that we won't know until then.

Learn More

The pro-life Christians facing up to 11 years.
The right to defend innocent life is on trial.
The rise of pro-life rescues and protests in America.

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