As you may be aware, last week more than 25 FBI agents raided the home of Mark Houck, a pro-life Catholic and father of seven children. The agents confronted Houck at gunpoint and arrested him in front of his family. Houck regularly prays with and for women outside the Planned Parenthood Elizabeth Blackwell abortion mill in Philadelphia. He was indicted on federal FACE (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances) Act* charges for an incident in October 2021, involving a Planned Parenthood “deathscort” who repeatedly harassed Houck’s 12-year-old son. When the male deathscort approached Houck’s son yet again, Houck reportedly pushed him back, and the escort fell to the ground.
Months later, after the local authorities declined to prosecute and the deathscort’s lawsuit against Houck was dismissed, Houck received a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice letting him know a federal investigation into the incident was underway. Through his attorney, Houck offered to turn himself in if charges were brought. Instead, the DOJ decided to send a slew of federal agents to his house in an extreme and unprovoked show of force.
The two FACE charges against Houck carry penalties of up to to 11 years in prison and $350,000 in fines. However, the evidence indicates that Houck did not violate FACE. A violation of FACE requires a showing that the individual’s intent was to interfere with or intimidate another person from “providing or obtaining reproductive health services.” If Houck was simply trying to protect his son, he did not violate FACE.
Life Legal is currently handling similar cases where minor incidents outside abortion facilities have been elevated to state and federal FACE Act charges. Often, these charges are not filed until well after the initial incident.
In light of the current administration’s overt hostility against pro-lifers, we would like to provide some guidance for pro-lifers who are praying, counseling, and advocating outside abortion facilities:
- Do not allow the government’s tactics to intimidate you. Public sidewalks, including those outside abortion mills, are still free speech zones.
- Record (audio and video) all interactions while you are outside the abortion facility. The purpose of the recording is to provide evidence in the event of a wrongful civil or criminal action against you. We do not recommend publishing or sharing recordings without first checking with an attorney to make sure that this is legal.
- Inform yourself regarding local ordinances that may regulate speech outside abortion clinics. These are known as “bubble zone” or “buffer zone” laws and typically prohibit approaching within 8 feet of abortion workers and/or individuals entering or exiting the abortion mill without their consent. Some ordinances also prohibit excessive noise (e.g., bullhorns or other amplification) directly outside abortion clinics. If you are unsure whether your community has enacted such an ordinance, please email us (click here) or call Life Legal at 707.224.6675.
- Continue to engage in pro-life activities such as prayer, peaceful protests, education, and holding signs. Even if your community has enacted a bubble/buffer zone law, you may offer literature and counsel to women seeking abortion – you just need to ask if you can approach within the 8-foot zone.
- Avoid physical contact with abortion clinic employees, escorts, and clients. Be aware that even if you are only trying to protect your property or that of another sidewalk counselor, you should try not to touch a hostile clinic worker, patient, or patient companion. It’s better to hold onto your property firmly than to push someone away from it.
- If an abortion worker, volunteer, or abortion client assaults or threatens you, immediately call the police and report the assault, battery, or threats. You have a right to exercise your First Amendment liberties without aggression or undue interference.
- Be aware that obstructing access to the entrance of the abortion mill could trigger a state or federal criminal charge or even a civil lawsuit depending on a state’s FACE Act provisions. If you are charged with a FACE Act violation, please contact Life Legal immediately.
*The Federal FACE Act prohibits the use or threat of force or physical obstruction to injure, intimidate, or interfere with any person who is obtaining or providing “reproductive health services.” The FACE Act also applies to those who obstruct access to pro-life pregnancy centers or churches.