CV NEWS FEED // After a drama-filled trial, five pro-life advocates were found guilty of violating an almost three-decade-old federal law that has been used to prevent pro-lifers from exercising their right to free speech.
The five defendants—Lauren Handy, William Goodman, John Hinshaw, Heather Idoni, and Herb Geraghty— were each found guilty “for conspiracy against the right to reproductive health services” and for violating the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act.
Lila Rose, president of Live Action, a pro-life organization, called the trial a “sham.”
“This trial has been a sham with a biased pro-abortion judge who has made a mockery of our justice system,” said Rose. “This decision will be appealed, & we demand it be overturned.”
Five other defendants will face similar charges in an upcoming September 6 trial. All 10 were charged with crimes related to their actions on October 22, 2020.
But the story begins long before that day.
In 2012, Lauren Handy, then a college student, watched a YouTube video depicting a Live Action investigation into abortion doctor Cesare Santangelo.
The 2012 video showed Santangelo admitting to an undercover investigator, posing as a potential patient, that if the baby was born alive, he would not perform any life-saving measures, thereby killing the child. Live Action pointed out that this was a clear violation of the Federal Born Alive Infants Protection Act.
The video had such a profound impact on Handy that she dropped out of college and joined the pro-life movement.
On October 22, 2020, Handy arrived at Santangelo’s clinic for an appointment, posing as an expectant mother. The other defendants filed in after her, locked arms, and blocked the staff’s entrance to the clinic. Others moved couches and chairs, sitting down and blocking other key doors.
Soon, the police arrived and attempted to escort the pro-life advocates off the premises. As the police attempted to remove them, the advocates prayed and protested, with one, Jonathan Darnel, saying, “As long as they’re in there, no woman can go in to kill their children. We shall delay the murder of kids as long as we can in this building,” according to the Facebook Live video documenting the incident.
The ten protestors were soon indicted for their participation.
Each was indicted on charges related to the FACE Act. The FACE Act is a 1994 law that makes it illegal for protestors to block women from entering an abortion clinic. It has been used to prosecute pro-life activists before and has resulted in immediate incarceration.
The FACE Act was also crafted to protect churches from vandalism and protestors blocking the entrance to houses of worship. However, the Department of Justice has never prosecuted church vandals using the FACE Act.
A Courtroom Drama
Jury selection for the first trial began this past August. Immediately, a problem emerged: how to assemble an impartial jury in a case concerning America’s most controversial issue?
Many of the potential jurors said they had previously donated to Planned Parenthood and participated in anti-life marches. Others were upfront, saying that abortion was a grave evil and telling the judge that it was murdering an innocent child.
After days of contentious deliberation, the jury was finally selected, allowing the case to proceed.
Soon, the chaos of jury selection became an afterthought as a courtroom drama unfolded in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. And it began with a stern warning from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who presided over the case.
“This is a courtroom, not a church,” Kollar-Kotelly said, speaking to a group of Christians and Catholics who had brought rosaries and bibles to pray with. She told them to avoid any outbursts or displaying any religious symbols that the jurors might see.
Throughout his opening arguments, Assistant US Attorney Sanjay H. Patel, the prosecutor, told jurors that abortion is not on trial.
“This is not about pro-life or pro-choice,” Patel said. “This is about the law, and the defendants are not allowed to break the law.”
One attorney, Alfred Guillaume, defending John Hinshaw, pointed out that the prosecution accused the defendants of using violence. Yet, video evidence showed that the only people to use physical violence during the altercation were clinic staff members, with one wielding a broomstick.
Patel alleged that the defendants conspired to block the entrance and planned the sit-in with an intent to break the law.
The defendants’ attorneys quickly refuted the claim, saying that their clients did not conspire to break the law and that they are five law-abiding citizens fighting for the truth and for the lives of innocent children.
Martin Cannon, Handy’s attorney, highlighted the illegal practices carried out by Santangelo that served as her inspiration as he shared Handy’s story of conversion to the pro-life movement.
To make his point, he submitted into evidence the Live Action video of Santangelo admitting that he had and would murder a child if born during an attempted abortion.
But the judge rejected the video.
A Judge’s Bias
Calling the video “heavily edited” and “propaganda”, Judge Kollar-Kotelly denied Cannon’s request to show the video to the court.
“It is scandalous that this judge has refused to admit as evidence into the trial the Live Action video that inspired Lauren Handy’s pro-life activism regarding this specific abortion facility,” said Rose. “Live Action reported the facts, straight from the mouth of the notorious late-term abortionist Cesare Santangelo, and our organization always releases and posts the full, unedited raw footage of every investigation.”
President Bill Clinton appointed Kollar-Kotelly to the US District Court in 1997. She graduated with her law degree from the Catholic University of America’s law school in 1968.
In addition to rejecting the video as evidence, Judge Kollar-Kotelly granted the prosecution a special request to allow the prosecution’s witnesses to remain anonymous. Nurses and patients from the clinic will be allowed to stay anonymous, using pseudonyms during their testimony.
The judge said she granted this due to the sensitivity of the case and because it comes so recently after the Dobbs decision.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys delivered their closing arguments last Thursday, and the verdict was delivered yesterday. The defendants have not yet received their sentences.
“We are seeing a horrific abuse of our justice system in that five pro-life activists are potentially facing eleven years in prison for peaceful pro-life activism,” said Rose. “If members of the Department of Justice actually cared about doing their job, they would investigate and bring Cesare Santangelo to justice for the children he has mutilated and killed.”