Where the Obama Department of Justice Spends Its Time

On July 14, 2011, the United States Department of Justice filed a civil complaint against pro-life advocate Richard Retta, of Potomac Maryland. The complaint alleges that Retta physically obstructed and intentionally intimidated a person or persons entering the Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington in violation of the Federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE). While LLDF is not involved in Mr. Retta’s case, this is the eighth prosecution of pro-lifers under FACE by the USDOJ under the Obama administration.

The seriousness of these charges belies the fact that Dick Retta is an elderly gentleman who looks incapable of harming a flea, let alone a pregnant woman. He has been active in saving lives outside abortion clinics for the past fourteen years, with amazing success. His gentle words of hope persuade and save. He had no warning of this prosecution. No recent incident led him to believe he would become the subject of a federal civil prosecution.

LLDF Legal Director Katie Short commented that the complaint looked like it had been written by Planned Parenthood. There are generalizations about what Mr. Retta does, and claims that he yells at women and escorts (which, even if true, is not a violation of FACE or any other law). The only specific incident alleged is that on January 8, 2011, Mr. Retta stepped in front of a woman and the clinic escorts who were walking her into the clinic. He walked in front of them, speaking to the woman about abortion. Near the clinic entrance, he stopped, forcing the woman to walk around him. It is admitted that the woman got into the clinic without incident.

For this, the Department of Justice seeks a permanent injunction against Mr. Retta and others working in concert with him, preventing them from walking on public property between the clinic gateway and the entrance to the clinic or coming within 20 feet of the clinic gate. It asks for the court to assess fines against Mr. Retta of $10,000, and “$5,000 to the three victims of Defendant Richard Retta’s activities in violation of FACE.”

Dana Cody, LLDF Executive Director, points out “No one’s rights are being violated here except those of a peaceful pro-life advocate trying to help women. If the Obama Administration is going to take prosecution under FACE to this extreme, it is time for Congress to repeal the statute. Or, at least amend it to add some common sense definitions. FACE has always suffered from ambiguity.”

This case against Mr. Retta is yet another example of the one-sided nature of FACE. Although violence against pro-life advocates has been escalating in incidence and intensity over the past few years, FACE is not available to protect peaceful pro-life advocates against pro-abortion violence—the way it is written, it is a one-way street. If simple assault and trespass committed against someone who is seeking or providing “reproductive services” are a federal offense, how much more should crimes committed against peaceable pro-life advocates be treated seriously and prosecuted fully? If Congress does amend FACE, it would do well to level the playing field.

ACTION ITEM: Contact your member of Congress and ask them to 1) investigate the harassing prosecutions occurring against peaceable pro-life advocates through the Department of Justice; and 2) Repeal FACE and leave law enforcement to the local authorities, or at the very least, amend the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act to clearly define the type of conduct prohibited, while extending its protections to pro-life advocates.