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Pro-life activist sentenced to 57 months for blocking clinic

Pro-life activist Lauren Handy (right)


John Burger - published on 05/16/24

Lauren Handy, who led 2020 Washington, DC, "rescue," faces almost five years in prison.

Virginia resident and pro-life activist Lauren Handy (at right in photo above) was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison, plus three years supervision, for blocking a Washington, DC, abortion clinic in 2020. 

In August 2023, Handy and several other defendants were convicted by a Washington, DC, federal jury on charges of violating the FACE (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances) Act and “Conspiracy Against Rights.” The charges were brought by the US Department of Justice and carried a potential sentence of up to 11 years. The Justice Department requested a sentence up to six-and-a-half years, while Handy’s attorneys asked the court to show leniency with a 12-month sentence — which effectively amounts to time served. 

The New York Times reported at the time of their conviction that because “the jury found that the defendants acted with violent force, they were immediately taken into custody and held at the Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia.”

One defendant, Jay Smith, pleaded guilty to violating the FACE Act and was sentenced to 10 months in prison, WUSA-9 reported. The remaining eight – Johnathan Darnel, Herb Geraghty, Joan Andrews Bell, William Goodman, Paulette Harlow, Jean Marshall, John Hinshaw, and Heather Idoni – were convicted on both counts in a series of trials in federal court last year. This week, they received sentences ranging from just under two years to 34 months.

Joan Andrews Bell, a veteran pro-life “rescuer” who has spent much time in prison in her 76 years of life, was sentenced to just over two years in prison.

During the trial, District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly barred the defendants from arguing that their actions were protected by the First Amendment or were committed in defense of a third person, according to WUSA-9

During the sentencing hearing, letters were discussed attesting to Handy’s deep commitment to non-violence, history of humanitarian work, and dedication to serving the marginalized in society. Handy, a 30-year-old and a Catholic, is director of activism for Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising.

Appeal promised

The Thomas More Society, a national not-for-profit law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and freedom, represents Handy. The Chicago-based law firm says it will appeal her conviction and challenge the constitutionality of the FACE Act.

Martin Cannon, Thomas More Society Senior Counsel, reacting to the sentence, said,

“There was only one thing around which Ms. Handy and her co-defendants were unified, and that was nonviolence. They conspired to be peaceful. Yet, today, the Court granted the Biden Department of Justice its wish by sentencing Ms. Handy to 57 months — nearly 5 years in prison. For her efforts to peacefully protect the lives of innocent preborn human beings, Ms. Handy deserves thanks, not a gut-wrenching prison sentence. We will vigorously pursue an appeal of Ms. Handy’s conviction and attack the root cause of this injustice, that is, the FACE Act — which we believe is unconstitutional and should never again be used to persecute peaceful pro-lifers.”

Steve Crampton, Thomas More Society Senior Counsel, added,

“Ms. Handy’s 57-month sentence is a miscarriage of justice, plain and simple. As I’ve gotten to know Ms. Handy, I’ve seen up close her unwavering passion for pro-life advocacy and resolute dedication to nonviolence. The caricature of Ms. Handy that the Biden Department of Justice fabricated flies in the face of reality. Ms. Handy should have been shown the same mercy that she has herself shown to countless many downtrodden throughout her young life. It is deeply disappointing that this Court did not see through Department of Justice’s smoke and mirrors. But this fight is far from over, and we eagerly look forward to appealing for Ms. Handy and her co-defendants’ freedom, so that the FACE Act can never again be weaponized by the Department of Justice against its ideological opponents.”

Facing the Justice Department

The FACE Act charges brought against Handy and other pro-life advocates over the past two years have sparked debate about the law’s constitutionality and its use by the Biden Administration. The debate has reached members of both houses of the United States Congress, where legislation has been introduced to repeal the FACE Act.

The grand jury that indicted Handy and eight other defendants in Washington, DC, in February 2022 said the protesters conspired to “injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate patients and employees” of a DC abortion clinic on October 22, 2020, “in the free exercise and enjoyment of the rights and privileges secured to them by the laws of the United States – namely, the right to obtain and seek to obtain … reproductive health services.”

The indictment claimed that the defendants used force to enter the clinic and to obstruct access to it.

According to the indictment, Handy made an appointment at the clinic using a pseudonym and falsely seeking “reproductive health services.” When a worker opened the clinic at the start of the business day, Handy and others “forced” their way into the waiting room. When one of them “forcefully backed into the clinic,” he allegedly caused a nurse to stumble and sprain her ankle. As Handy called out directions, the other defendants proceeded to block doors and chain themselves to furnishings. They blocked a patient from entering various parts of the clinic.

Handy also has been investigated for having five human fetuses in her home. According to Our Sunday Visitor, the five corpses (taken from a container of 115) were turned over to the district’s medical examiner; no autopsies were performed. The rest of the fetuses from the medical waste container received a burial presided over by a Catholic priest.

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