Reference FEMHEALTH USA, INC. v. WILLIAMS, et al.
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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.