Life Legal is representing a number of pro-life clients in FACE (Freedom of Access to Clinic and Church Entrances) Act cases across the country. The federal FACE Act and its state counterparts impose severe civil and criminal penalties on those who intentionally block access to abortion clinics. Prior to FACE, “obstruction” was understood to mean physically obstructing the doorway of an abortion clinic such that the entrance is impassible. FACE loosened that definition to include making passage “unreasonably difficult.”
With that leeway, courts have interpreted obstruction to mean far less than blocking access to an abortion mill. In a 2018 case, the court held that even someone “standing or pacing with a sign, but not blocking a clinic entrance, can violate the FACE Act” if the individual in any way interferes with or delays access to or from the facility. In that case, the court deemed someone holding a sign and walking slowly down the sidewalk with a woman entering the clinic constituted obstruction.
In the hands of pro-abortion judges, FACE laws have become bludgeons against pro-life activism.
We are currently representing a client facing a federal FACE lawsuit brought by an abortion clinic. Our client did not engage in any kind of obstruction or interference, yet the judge characterized his and others’ presence – for five minutes — on the property of a multi-tenant office building housing an abortion clinic as a FACE violation because the clinic personnel said they felt threatened.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted 11 individuals on federal criminal FACE Act charges stemming from pro-life activity at a Washington DC abortion clinic. The clinic is run by notorious late-term abortionists Cesare Santangelo, who commits abortion on babies through 27 weeks, well beyond the age of viability. Santangelo has been captured on video saying he would ensure the death of a child born alive during abortion, which is a violation of federal law. But authorities are not investigating Santangelo. Instead, the Biden administration is targeting pro-lifers who gathered to pray and protest at Santangelo’s clinic, charging them with felonies carrying lengthy prison sentences as well as draconian fines.
Some of the defendants in the DC case did enter the clinic to talk with women seeking abortion. The pro-lifers were initially charged with trespass, but the charges were later dismissed. The FACE Act charges, however, were filed against all of the individuals who were present for the prayer vigil and protest, regardless of whether they actually entered or obstructed access to Santangelo‘s abortion mill.
In another case, New York filed a federal civil FACE Act lawsuit against Red Rose Rescue, a loosely organized group of pro-lifers who enter abortion clinics to pray with women and give them a red rose to which a prayer card and information about abortion alternatives is attached. Normally, Red Rose Rescuers would be charged with a misdemeanor trespass charge at most for this type of activity. But New York’s Attorney General is seeking statutory fines, legal costs, and a permanent stay-away order — and, more critically, an expansive interpretation of the FACE Act in order to restrict pro-life speech.
Life Legal has been representing pro-lifers in cases big and small for over 30 years. We have defended clients in hostile administrations and before hostile judges. We recognize the effect that the political climate has on judicial rulings and we are well-equipped to protect our clients.