Reproductive rights activists are charged under the law with the purpose of protecting abortion

About 75 people marched and raised slogans against First Image, a "Crisis Pregnancy Center" On June 27, 2022, in Portland, Oregon, graffiti sprays and breaks several windows.  First Image, part of a nationwide group of Christian pregnancy centers, offers only anti-abortion counseling.  (Photo by John Rudoff/Cipa USA)(Cipa via AP Images)

Graffiti at a Christian pregnancy center that offers anti-abortion counseling on June 27, 2022 in Portland, Oregon.

Photo: John Rudoff/Cipa USA via AP

freedom The Access to Clinic Entrances, or FACE, Act was not written in response to acts like those of Caleb Freestone and Amber Smith-Stewart. Instead, the law was meant to deal with unrestrained violence by people on opposite sides of the same issue.

Congress passed the FACE Act in 1994 after two abortion doctors and a bodyguard were killed outside two clinics in Pensacola, Florida. At the time, anti-abortion groups organized aggressive mass clinic blockades nationwide, sometimes involving hundreds of people. Vehicles, chains, and locks were used to intimidate abortion seekers and thwart their ability to enter the clinic; Threats of violence against clinic staff and patients were ubiquitous.

The FACE Act, which passed with bipartisan support, made physical obstruction of clinics a federal crime, as well as threats of force and violence against clinic staff and clinic property. In its 30 years in books, it has been used sparingly. As of recently, roughly 100 cases have been filed against people who have made targeted threats against staff at individual abortion clinics, carried out arson and shooting attacks on clinics, and attempted physical blockades to stop abortions.

Now the law, being introduced in response to very real threats and lethal violence against abortion providers, is being used to prosecute two reproductive rights activists who accused them of spray-painting the exterior walls of confusing and dangerous “crisis pregnancy centers” — which are CPCs. Known as — in Florida. Freestone, 27, and Smith-Stewart, 23, face up to 12 years in prison for the graffiti, which the Justice Department is calling a threat “to the benefit of reproductive health services.”

It’s an egregious application of one of several federal laws that has harmed abortion clinics and the widespread misuse of the term “reproductive health services” to describe what the facilities in question provide.

Lauren Regan, director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center and attorney for defendant Smith-Stewart, called “Ro-Post Dobbs another example of the government charging disproportionately serious crimes against alleged activists in an effort to stifle political opposition to the fall.” , told me. “Tagging private property may be a violation, but it should not be a federal crime.”

Graffiti in The question — the level of property damage fixed with a coat of paint — was part of a series of similar smaller actions against anti-abortion centers across the country after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe leaked last year. Slogans including “If abortion isn’t safe, neither are you” and “We’re everywhere” were daubed on the walls outside fake clinics and anti-abortion network headquarters. Online, Communiqués of Jane’s Revenge – an umbrella name for a political position, not an organized group – claimed responsibility for the independent act.

For decades, the left has used the strategy of working autonomously under a unified banner to express solidarity with a larger cause. Those spray-painting in the name of Jane’s Revenge in Wisconsin, for example, almost certainly have no direct connection or knowledge of those doing the same in Florida or elsewhere. The goal is to spread a shared message and suggest the latent power of a movement. Yet, for decades, right-wing media pundits and law enforcement have responded with paranoid, if not objective, misunderstanding.

Fox News called Jane’s Revenge an “extremist group.” The FBI is currently offering a reward for information on Jane’s retaliatory activities, promising “up to $25,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the suspects responsible for these crimes.” The crime, i.e. low-level property damage, was converted into a potential federal crime with the push of the FACE Act. The charges in Florida are part of a broader campaign by law enforcement to draw a false equivalency between anti-abortion zealots and those fighting the destruction of our reproductive freedoms.

“Despite the rapidly increasing number of clinic attacks, shootings through clinic windows, and other violence, FACE is rarely even used by DOJ to charge anti-abortion protesters who disrupt care at licensed clinics.”

“The level of bipartisanship here by the DOJ goes beyond absurd. Frankly, it’s something I would have expected to see from the Trump administration,” said Haley McMahon, a public health researcher who studies abortion and criminalization at Emory University. Despite numerous clinic attacks, shootings through clinic windows, and other violence, FACE is rarely even used by the DOJ to charge anti-abortion protesters who disrupt care at licensed clinics.” McMahon told me that the Justice Department “restricts CPCs to medical providers of reproductive health services. It’s setting an incredibly irresponsible precedent for recognition as a privilege.”

Department of Justice The statement on Freestone and Smith-Stewart’s complaint was as misleading as the “crisis pregnancy center” that the defendants targeted. It claims that “defendants targeted pregnancy resource facilities and vandalized those facilities with spray-painted threats” and that they used “threats of force” against a clinic’s staff “because those employees were providing or seeking reproductive health services.” It’s ironic: It’s precisely because these anti-abortion centers don’t provide reproductive health services that they’ve become targets. They are part of a well-funded, Republican- and Supreme Court-backed apparatus of forced births, criminalization, and pregnancy-related deaths.

The use of the FACE law in this case defies the spirit of the law but not its letter. The statute’s wording applies to all “reproductive health centers,” a label that bogus clinics are unusually allowed to carry. As the Justice Department website notes, “The FACE Act is not about abortion. The statute protects all patients, providers, and facilities that provide reproductive health services, including pro-life pregnancy counseling services and any other pregnancy support facility that provides reproductive health services.”

“Crisis Pregnancy Clinics” should not be afforded such legal protection They are anti-abortion centers, dedicated to discouraging people from having abortions with highly deceptive practices. They pose as reproductive health clinics and “pregnancy help centers,” often giving pregnancy tests and ultrasounds a veneer of medical legitimacy, but these well-funded, sometimes taxpayer-supported, Christian organizations have a clear mission to stop abortion.

As noted in a New York Times opinion article on the centers, “A 2014 study concluded that 80 percent of CPCs include at least one piece of false or misleading medical information on their websites. Also, it appears that some CPCs share women’s personal health information with national anti-abortion networks. Maybe, something that could be especially true for states that criminalize post-Ro abortions.

Nationwide, centers outnumber abortion clinics 3-to-1. Their presence is especially damaging in states like Florida, which — though limited — has been granted legal abortion powers, a destination state for abortion seekers in the South, where a post-Roe world has long been a reality. In reality, Dobbs is only getting worse.

“Whether you believe or not the alleged vandals were wrong, the fact remains that crisis pregnancy centers are not medical facilities providing reproductive health services,” said public health researcher McMahon, noting that the centers are often “portrayed as physicians” by non-clinician volunteers. Facility to perform pregnancy tests and provide ultrasound. “There is extensive documentation of the use of these techniques to coerce both those who wish to have an abortion and those who wish to become parents.”

The federal government should use all resources possible to support and protect abortion providers and seekers. Instead, the Florida prosecution and FBI focus Jane’s retaliation read as a spineless gesture to appease congressional Republicans, who complained last year about the use of the FACE law only against anti-abortion extremists. As McMahon noted, anti-abortion Sen. Thom Tillis, R.N.C., among others, last year suggested charging those who target CPCs under the FACE Act.

According to Drexel University law professor David Cohen, whose work has focused on legal barriers to abortion and anti-abortion extremism, the FACE Act served as a quick and effective deterrent to widespread blockades of clinics. Regarding the recent Florida charges, he said, “I would be extremely disappointed if this is the only way DOJ uses their resources under the FACE Act.” He noted that the government continues to use the law mainly to charge anti-abortion extremists but still should do more to protect abortion providers and seekers amid an uptick in anti-abortion violence at clinics since the Dobbs decision.

even if As the government continues to use the FACE Act against those who oppose abortion, the comparative overreach of the cases against Freestone and Smith-Stewart is striking. The acts the two are charged with pale in comparison to the threats and violent incidents that have led to convictions under the FACE Act in the past. In 2017, for example, a Minnesota man was sentenced to six months in prison after threatening two Minneapolis abortion clinics over the phone, including one call in which he threatened to cut off the recipient’s head with a band saw.

A 2022 Reveal News investigation into FACE law cases found that they were largely successful but noted that a number failed when the alleged threats were not deemed by a jury to reach the legal standard of validity. In one instance, a Kansas woman sent a threatening letter directly to an abortion doctor trainee, saying, “You check under your car every day because maybe someone put an explosive under it today.” He also sent letters of appreciation to the killer of a Wichita abortion doctor in 2009.

As the Justice Department noted, “the court determined that the letter fell short of a ‘genuine threat’ because it 1) made no imminent or unconditional threat of violence, and 2) did not suggest that the defendant would be a participant in the threat of violence.”

The Justice Department released a list of recent FACE Act cases last year in response to demands from Republican members of Congress. The lawsuit includes assaults and murders, as well as threats directed at specific doctors — all of which seem more targeted and direct than the allegations in Jane’s Revenge case.

It is hard to imagine that spray-painting vaguely prohibited slogans, no names or specific intended actions could rise to the legal standard of an actual threat. Equally, Jane’s Revenge graffiti has in no way prevented access to any fake health facilities. The prosecution, and the possibility of a 12-year sentence, is a harmful overreach.

Given the wrecked state of reproductive justice, these allegations and the widespread campaign aimed at retaliating against Jane are yet another reminder that government forces, even under Democratic leadership, cannot be relied upon to stand by those fighting for basic reproductive rights, let alone completely. Reproductive Justice. With this in mind, “we are everywhere” — Jane’s slogan of revenge, long used by alienated and environmental libertarians to denote community in a shared struggle — is a comfort, not a threat.