Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Department of Justice has prosecuted more protesting pro-life activists than those who attack pro-life organizations because they are simply easier to identify and track down.
Garland testified on a range of topics before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. During the hearing, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) questioned Garland about a disparity between DOJ efforts to prosecute pro-life activists, including those who vandalize abortion clinics, and those who vandalize pro-life organizations and churches.
“In 2022 and for the first couple of months in 2023, DOJ has announced charges against 34 individuals for blocking access to or vandalizing abortion clinics,” Lee noted.
Lee then noted there have been over 81 reported attacks on crisis pregnancy centers and 130 attacks on Catholic churches since the leak of a Supreme Court draft decision overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion case. Lee noted that in those cases “only two individuals have been charged.”
“How do you explain this disparity, by reference to anything other than politicization?” Lee asked Garland.
Garland said abortion clinics and pro-life organizations that run crisis pregnancy centers are protected equally under the law.
“You are quite right, there are many more prosecutions with respect to the blocking of the abortion centers,” Garland admitted. “But that is generally because those actions are taken with photography at the time during the daylight and seeing the person who did it is quite easy. Those who are attacking the pregnancy resource centers, which is a horrid thing to do, are doing this at night in the dark.”
Garland then claimed that “we have put full resources” towards investigating attacks on pro-life organizations.
Pro-Life Activist Arrests
While Garland assured that the DOJ is equally concerned about protecting both types of facilities, conservatives have criticized aggressive tactics used on some pro-life activists.
During the Wednesday hearing, Lee referenced the DOJ’s arrest and prosecution of Mark Houck, a pro-life activist who was involved in an altercation near an abortion clinic in October of 2021.
The DOJ alleged Houck had pushed Bruce Love, a 72-year-old clinic escort, to the ground during an October 2021 protest. Houck’s legal team argued that the altercation actually began after Love began aggressively “harassing” Houck’s 12-year-old son during the protest. Houck was acquitted in a Philadelphia federal court in January.
Despite being acquitted, Houck’s family has raised concerns about the way he was arrested about a year after the incident for which he was charged. Houck’s wife alleged that a tactical team of about 25 officers entered their home with weapons drawn and pointed those weapons at her, her husband, and their children.
“It doesn’t seem justifiable to me to have that overwhelming show of force for conduct like that,” Lee said of Houck’s arrest.
The FBI has previously denied claims that it sent a tactical team to arrest Houck.
“There are inaccurate claims being made regarding the arrest of Mark Houck. No SWAT Team or SWAT operators were involved,” the FBI Philadelphia office told The Epoch Times in September. “FBI agents knocked on Mr. Houck’s front door, identified themselves as FBI agents, and asked him to exit the residence. He did so and was taken into custody without incident pursuant to an indictment.”
While the FBI denied it used a tactical team to carry out Houck’s arrest, Houck’s legal team has contended that no arrest was necessary in the first place. Houck’s attorney, Thomas More Society Vice President and Senior Counsel Peter Breen, said Houck had agreed to turn himself in voluntarily several months prior to his arrest.
“Rather than accepting Mark Houck’s offer to appear voluntarily, the Biden Department of Justice chose to make an unnecessary show of potentially deadly force, sending 20 heavily armed federal agents to the Houck residence at dawn,” Breen said.
Houck was not the only pro-life activist who was allegedly arrested by armed tactical officers. Just weeks after Houck’s arrest, FBI agents arrested a group of 11 pro-life activists who allegedly blocked an entrance to a Tennessee abortion clinic in March of 2021. Among those 11 arrested was Paul Vaughn.
Vaughn claimed agents came to his home with “guns pointed at the door, banging on the house, yelling and screaming, ‘Open up. FBI,’ that kind of thing.”
Vaughn’s wife recorded a video, asking a pair of FBI agents “why you were banging on my door with a gun.” The FBI agents walked away as Vaughn’s wife questioned them. One officer could be seen carrying a rifle. Later on in the video, another agent with a rifle could be seen walking along the dirt driveway of the home.
Video of the FBI’s arrest of Paul Vaughn of Centerville, Tennessee. DOJ charged him with “conspiracy against rights secured by the FACE Act, and committing FACE Act violations” for blocking the entrance to an abortion clinic. Paul tells me the footage was taken by his wife.
— Mary Margaret Olohan (@MaryMargOlohan) October 7, 2022
Vaughn and some of the other defendants face up to 11 years for allegedly blocking the abortion clinic entrance. The DOJ alleges the defendants used force and physical obstruction to injure, intimidate, and interfere with clinic employees and patients. The Thomas Moore Society, which also represents Vaughn, has contended that Vaughn and the other pro-life activists were behaving peacefully and simply sat in the hallway of a shared general medical office building that included the abortion clinic during the March 2021 protest. Breen has also said Vaughn “did not actually block the door.”