DC Appeals Court Refuses to Release Pro-Life Campaigner During Appeal

Matthew Vadum
By Matthew Vadum
September 25, 2023Judiciary
DC Appeals Court Refuses to Release Pro-Life Campaigner During Appeal
Left-wing pro-life activist Lauren Handy speaks at a news conference in Washington on April 5, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

A federal appeals court has denied pro-life campaigner Lauren Handy’s emergency motion to be released from custody pending her appeal.

Lawyers for Ms. Handy, who was jailed over a Washington abortion clinic protest, previously filed an emergency appeal seeking her release, arguing that the trial judge was wrong to rule that the disruptive political protest in which she was involved was a “crime of violence.”

Ms. Handy’s appeal of her conviction itself remains pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is the same court that denied the emergency motion to release her on Sept. 22.

One of Ms. Handy’s lawyers, Stephen Crampton, senior counsel at the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm, said, “We are disappointed but not deterred.”

“We will fight on, and we believe we will ultimately prevail,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Crampton explained what will happen next.

“We were denied an emergency motion. We have filed an expedited appeal, together with two of Lauren’s other defendants.” The brief for the expedited appeal is due by Oct. 2, he noted.

Ms. Handy, who was convicted by a jury on Aug. 29 of conspiring to obstruct access to an abortion clinic in the nation’s capital and of “conspiracy against rights,” was ordered incarcerated immediately after the conviction and pending sentencing by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The judge was appointed in 1997 by President Bill Clinton.

On Aug. 31, Judge Kollar-Kotelly rejected a post-trial emergency motion to release Ms. Handy and four of her co-defendants before sentencing. Unless a court orders otherwise, Ms. Handy and her four co-defendants will remain in custody until sentencing at least, which could be months away. Each defendant faces up to 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $350,000.

Ms. Handy and the cohort of co-defendants in her trial were convicted of conspiracy against rights and conspiracy under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (or FACE Act), which has been criticized by federal lawmakers. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) has said the Biden administration enforces the law selectively against pro-life activists.

On Sept. 19, Mr. Roy introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to repeal the FACE Act, which he described as “an unconstitutional federal takeover of state police powers … [that] must be repealed.”

“Free Americans should never live in fear of their government targeting them because of their beliefs. Yet, [President Joe] Biden’s Department of Justice has brazenly weaponized the FACE Act against normal, everyday Americans across the political spectrum, simply because they are pro-life,” the lawmaker said at the time.

Critics like Mr. Roy reject the conspiracy against rights charge because there is no constitutional right to an abortion, as the Supreme Court determined in June 2022. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the nation’s highest court reversed the 1973 Roe v. Wade precedent and returned the regulation of abortion to the states.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that denied the emergency motion to release Ms. Handy stated in its order (pdf) that the court declined to exercise its authority under federal appellate rules because the appellant “has not shown that immediate relief before resolution of her expedited appeal is warranted.”

The court did not otherwise elaborate on its reasoning but panel member Judge Greg Katsas, whom President Donald Trump appointed in 2017, attached a brief explanation for his vote to the order.

In ruling on the motion, the court had no occasion to consider whether the FACE Act’s “element of ‘force’ sweeps more broadly than the ‘physical force’ required for a crime of violence.”

“That possibility arises because the common-law definition of ‘force’ encompasses even the ‘slightest offensive touching,’ whereas the crime-of-violence definition of ‘physical force’ requires ‘violent force—that is, force capable of causing physical pain or injury to another person,’” Judge Katsas wrote, citing Johnson v. United States, a 2010 Supreme Court ruling.

“So, if FACE Act ‘force’ tracks the broader common-law standard, then section 248(a)(1) is not a crime of violence. My vote to deny interim relief rests on Handy’s failure to develop this argument, rather than on any assessment of whether it is likely to succeed.”

The other two judges on the panel were Robert Wilkins, who was appointed in 2014 by President Barack Obama, and Justin Walker, who was appointed in 2020 by President Trump.

Earlier this month, Mr. Crampton anticipated Judge Katsas’s statement when he told The Epoch Times that force and violence are not necessarily the same thing legally.

“I can use force by running into the door. … But I don’t necessarily have to entail violence in that action because if nobody’s there, and I don’t run into anybody, there’s no violence that results,” he said.

“We believe the FACE Act contemplates just that sort of distinction—not all use of force is necessarily violent. And that’s really the heart of our argument to the appeals court right now.”

Ms. Handy is the director of activism for Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, which describes its mission as mobilizing “grassroots anti-abortion activists for direct action and [to] educate on the exploitative influence of the Abortion Industrial Complex through an anti-capitalist lens.”

After being sentenced to jail time on a separate charge in July 2022, Ms. Handy said, “As a Catholic and progressive myself, I am compelled by my deeply held beliefs (religious and political) to put my body between the oppressed and the oppressor.”

The Epoch Times has reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice, which is handling the prosecution, for comment.

From The Epoch Times

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