As Pro-Life Activists Face Stiff Federal Sentences, Bill to Repeal 'Weaponized' FACE Act Introduced

Sen. Chip Roy is behind a House effort to repeal the FACE Act, which has been used aggressively against pro-life activists since Roe v. Wade was overturned.
As Pro-Life Activists Face Stiff Federal Sentences, Bill to Repeal 'Weaponized' FACE Act Introduced
Pro-life activists sit in front of abortion facility door in Sterling Heights, Michigan, August, 27, 2020. (Cal Zastrow)
Beth Brelje

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) has introduced legislation to repeal the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, a federal law that was seldom used prior to June 2022, when Roe V. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, plans to lead companion legislation in the Senate.

Since the landmark ruling that overturned Roe V. Wade, the landscape on the frontline of abortion has changed and numerous pro-life sidewalk counselors and so-called rescuers have been charged under the act.

Most recently, three pro-life activists were convicted Sept. 15 under the law, with additional federal felony charges of conspiracy, joining five other pro-lifers who were convicted Aug. 29.  They face as many as 11 years in federal prison.

Shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, President Joe Biden issued an executive order directing his administration to address “potential heightened safety and security risks related to the provision of reproductive healthcare services.”
On July 12, 2022, the Justice Department announced the formation of the Reproductive Rights Task Force. In a June 2023 press release, the Justice Department listed enforcement of the FACE Act as one of the goals of the task force.

Pro-Life Activism

By the late 1980s, thousands of pro-life activists willing to face low-level trespassing charges were participating in sit-ins, praying, and carrying signs at abortion facilities around the country.
Signed into law by then-president Bill Clinton in 1994, the FACE Act (pdf) chilled some pro-life activity at abortion facilities.

The FACE Act established "federal criminal penalties and civil remedies for certain violent, threatening, obstructive and destructive conduct that is intended to injure, intimidate or interfere with persons seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services."

After the act was passed, fewer people were willing to risk federal charges, but some pro-life activists continue to go to abortion facilities trying to convince women not to abort their babies. They may carry signs or offer resources for alternatives to abortion. Sometimes they use bullhorns or sit in front of clinic doors. Many simply pray. Some are occasionally arrested for trespassing.

Pro-life activists report that they are sometimes able to convince women to change their minds and allow their babies to live.

A sidewalk counselor in the Midwest, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Epoch Times: "Nationally, more than 21,000 babies have been saved via sidewalk advocacy since 2000." 40 Days for Life, an international organization that coordinates twice-yearly prayer vigils outside of abortion clinics, reports that it has seen more than 23,000 babies saved since 2007.

'Weaponizing' the FACE Act

Through the Reproductive Rights Task Force, however, the Biden administration cracked down aggressively on pro-life activists. In the 10 years between 2011 and 2021, the Department of Justice had criminally charged 17 people with FACE Act violations, according to the DOJ website. By comparison, in a single year, 2022, the DOJ charged 26 people under the law.

“Free Americans should never live in fear of their government targeting them because of their beliefs. Yet, Biden's Department of Justice has brazenly weaponized the FACE Act against normal, everyday Americans across the political spectrum, simply because they are pro-life,” Mr. Roy said in a statement. “Our Constitution separates power between the federal government and the states for a reason, and we ignore that safeguard at our own peril. The FACE Act is an unconstitutional federal takeover of state police powers; it must be repealed.”

The FACE Act Repeal Act of 2023 would repeal the act and erase any pending prosecution of a FACE Act charge that happens on or after the repeal is enacted. There are 24 co-signers on the bill.

“The Constitution reserves general police power to the states, which Congress infringed upon when it passed the FACE Act,” Mr. Lee said. “Joe Biden’s DOJ has weaponized this constitutionally dubious law against pro-life sidewalk counselors while failing to protect pregnancy centers and churches from arson, vandalism, and violence. It’s time to repeal the FACE Act once and for all.”

Intimidating Arrests

On Oct. 5, 2022, Paul Vaughn, a father of 11 from Centerville, Tennessee, was preparing to take his children to school when the FBI pounded on his door with their guns drawn. FBI agents put him in handcuffs, drove him to Nashville, put him in a holding cell, and charged him with violating the FACE Act and with conspiracy to violate civil rights for his participation in a pro-life rescue in March 2021. He faces 11 years in prison and missing key years of his children’s youth.
Shortly after, the FBI visited communist concentration camp survivor Eva Edl, 87, and charged her with a FACE Act violation in connection with the 2021 rescue. Her federal trial is not until January 2024. If she gets prison time, she will go to jail when she is 88 or 89 years old. Ms. Edl has said that she sits in front of the doors of abortion centers the way she wishes people would have joined together and stood on the train tracks when she was a child in Yugoslavia, to block the cattle car that took her family to the death camp.
At 58, Heather Idoni of Livingstone, Michigan has been charged with multiple FACE Act violations. She has made her living as a bookstore owner and is a mother of 16, including 10 orphaned boys she and her husband adopted from Ukraine. Today Ms. Idoni and seven other pro-life activists are in a Washington D.C. prison after they were recently found guilty of violating the FACE Act.

Conspiracy Charges

The Justice Department has added a conspiracy charge to many FACE Act charges. There are two federal conspiracy statutes for these kinds of cases, Stephen Crampton, Mr. Vaughn’s attorney and senior counsel at the Thomas More Society, previously told The Epoch Times. One requires that, for a conspiracy violation, the penalty cannot be greater than the penalty for the underlying crime, he said.

“In this case, a first offense, nonviolent FACE violation, you only have a misdemeanor charge, up to one year in prison. So if they were to use that particular generic conspiracy statute, all they could get for the conspiracy part is another one year,” Crampton said.

"They dug deep in their little bag of tricks and found the conspiracy to violate civil rights statute and charged us with that one, which carries a sentence up to 10 years," Crampton said.

He says the conspiracy charge is unrelated to the FACE Act and does not represent what the activists were doing.

“What was the civil right we were talking about with FACE? It was abortion. So now they're going to pretend that the civil rights they're dealing with, is the right to access to so-called reproductive health care."  The term 'civil rights' as used in FACE alluded to abortion, "not the right to go in and get a pregnancy test, he added, which "nobody in the pro-life movement is going to engage in concerted activities to prohibit."

The conspiracy charge that some defendants face stems from using Facebook to communicate or live-stream their events.

“The FACE Act prescribes harsh, mean-spirited punishments when pro-life individuals engage in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience—the staple of the human rights and civil rights movements,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said in a statement. “Under the FACE Act, peaceful actions like holding a sign, singing a hymn, or praying the Rosary, if conducted near an abortion mill, can result in jail sentences, massive fines, and punitive damages by the party that feels it has been offended.”

Beth Brelje is a national, investigative journalist covering politics, wrongdoing, and the stories of everyday people facing extraordinary circumstances. Send her your story ideas: [email protected]