Biden DOJ Brings New Lawsuit Against Pro-Life Activists for 2021 Abortion Clinic Protests

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
May 21, 2024Courts
Biden DOJ Brings New Lawsuit Against Pro-Life Activists for 2021 Abortion Clinic Protests
Pro-life activist Lauren Handy speaks at a news conference on the five fetuses found inside the home where she and other pro-life activists were living on Capitol Hill, at a news conference at the Hyatt Regency in Washington on April 5, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a new lawsuit against two organizations and seven individual activists for allegedly violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act with demonstrations outside abortion clinics.

Federal prosecutors filed their lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio on Monday. The complaint alleges organizations Citizens for a Pro Life Society (CPLS) and Red Rose Rescue (RRR) and activists Laura Gies, Lauren Handy, Clara McDonald, Monica Miller, Christopher Moscinski, Jay Smith, and Audrey Whipple violated the FACE Act with protests they held outside two Ohio abortion clinics on June 4 and June 5, 2021.

The FACE Act prohibits individuals from using physical force, obstruction, or threats to prevent people from obtaining an abortion. The federal complaint alleges the organizations and activists violated this federal law by physically obstructing access to the Ohio abortion clinics.

“Individuals have the right to access facilities in Ohio to make decisions about their own bodies, health and futures, in consultation with health care providers, free from force, threats of force, intimidation or physical obstruction,” U.S. Attorney Rebecca C. Lutzko said in a Monday press statement announcing the lawsuit. “Our office remains committed to enforcing the FACE Act to protect these important rights of both individuals and providers, whether or not the services provided include abortion care options, as they do here.”

The DOJ previously pressed criminal charges against Ms. Handy and some of her fellow abortion opponents for FACE Act violations over a demonstration they held outside an abortion clinic in Washington, D.C., in March 2023. This new DOJ lawsuit comes a week after a federal U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly sentenced Ms. Handy to 57 months (about four years and nine months) in prison and three years of supervised release after a jury found her guilty of felony-level FACE Act violations and charges conspiring to violate civil rights.

Democrat New York Attorney General Letitia James also brought a civil suit in her state against RRR, Mr. Moscinski, Ms. Gies, and other abortion opponents last year for demonstrations they held at three separate abortion clinics in 2021 and 2022.

The new federal complaint against the activists notes several of them have been arrested on multiple occasions. The federal lawsuit asserts the activists “are likely to continue to commit, violations of the FACE Act.”

The new DOJ complaint seeks to hold all of the defendants liable on two civil counts for obstruction, force, or threat of force against the Ohio abortion clinics. The federal prosecutors seek to hit the activists with civil penalties of up to $20,516 for initial FACE Act violations and up to $30,868 for subsequent violations. The DOJ also seeks to impose fines of up to $5,000 “for each person aggrieved by Defendants’ actions.”

The June 4, 2021 Incident

The federal complaint alleges Ms. Gies, Ms. McDonald, Ms. Whipple, and Mr. Moscinski entered the first of the two Ohio abortion clinics, the Northeast Ohio Women’s Center (NOWC), on June 4, 2021, by falsely claiming to be there to obtain the clinic’s services.

Once inside, those four defendants began handing out roses to other people in the clinic’s waiting room “while encouraging them to not have abortions.” Clinic staff allegedly asked the defendants to leave and began relocating their clientele to a secondary waiting area. It was as clinic staff were relocating the other patrons that Ms. McDonald “forcefully grabbed a patient’s body and told her not to go through with the abortion.”

The four defendants allegedly continued to stay in the main waiting room even as staff repeatedly asked them to leave.

The defendant continued their efforts to dissuade the clinic from conducting abortion procedures. At one point, Mr. Moscinski allegedly said, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I forbid you from committing any abortions for today.”

While police came to remove those four activists who were inside the clinic, Ms. Miller waited outside the clinic. She allegedly said, “Hopefully [the Defendants] have an opportunity to stall as long as possible.”

The DOJ complaint states that 23 appointments were scheduled to take place at that Ohio clinic on June 4, 2021, but at least five of those individuals did not show up that day amid the disruptions.

The June 5 Incident

On June 5, 2021, the DOJ alleges Ms. Handy and Ms. Miller entered a private fenced-in parking lot that belonged to a second clinic, the Bedford Heights Surgery Center (BHSC). Those two defendants then allegedly began approaching patients waiting in their cars in attempts to dissuade them from entering the clinic and going through with abortion procedures. Ms. Handy and Ms. Miller are alleged to have “closely followed” patients as they walked from their cars into the clinic that day and “tried to force the patients to accept brochures and roses.”

While Ms. Handy and Ms. Miller attempted to pass out brochures and roses to patients outside the clinic, Mr. Smith allegedly carried on with similar efforts inside the clinic. The DOJ alleges a man waiting inside the clinic asked Mr. Smith to leave, to which the DOJ said Mr. Smith “used physical force against the patient by pushing him with his shoulder.”

Clinic staff asked Mr. Smith to leave and began relocating their patrons to another building area while they waited for police to arrive.

Outside the clinic, Ms. Handy allegedly began kneeling in front of the clinic’s entrance and refused to move. Responding police officers with the Bedford Heights Police Department again asked her and Ms. Miller to leave, but they refused. Police arrested these activists, but RRR activists allegedly continued to protest outside the clinic and enter the building later on that day.

The DOJ alleges local police had wanted to arrest and jail more of the activists but couldn’t because COVID-19-related restrictions limited them to jailing only felony offenders at the time. Citing these circumstances, the Bedford Heights police supervisor asked the BHSC manager to instead close the clinic for the day, to which she agreed.

The DOJ said this closure decision impacted all clinic staff and 24 patients with appointments that day, including nine who had surgeries planned and 15 who had consultations scheduled.

Abortion Opponents Preparing to Challenge FACE Act

“The Department of Justice has once again brought a lawsuit against totally peaceful Pro-Lifers who have participated in Red Rose Rescues. This is a civil suit under the FACE Act. But Red Rose Rescues do not violate FACE!” Ms. Miller said in an emailed statement to NTD News.

Ms. Miller, who works as the director of CPLS and handles press questions for RRR, insisted she and her fellow activists do not use any form of physical obstruction or restrict the freedom of movement of any women seeking abortions or abortion clinic staff.

“The DOJ’s complaint totally falsifies and mischaracterized what we do! The rescuers simply enter the waiting room, sit down quietly and talk to the moms, offering them material assistance and of course the red roses,” Ms. Miller continued. “We feel confident that we will prevail against this bogus initiative to intimate peaceful Pro-Lifers trying to help moms and save the unborn from violent acts of destruction.”

No attorneys were listed in federal court filings for any of the other individual defendants as of Tuesday afternoon.

Ms. Handy is preparing to challenge the FACE Act with the assistance of the Thomas More Society, a pro-life legal advocacy organization.

“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,” Thomas More Society senior counsel Martin Cannon announced following Ms. Handy’s sentencing last week.

Thomas More Society attorneys allege the DOJ, under President Joe Biden’s administration, uses the FACE Act to “target and jail pro-lifers for peacefully advocating on behalf of the unborn.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated with an additional statement from Ms. Miller.

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