Exclusive Interview: Convicted Pro-Life Activist Speaks Out

Speaking to CNA on the eve of his conviction in a phone interview, Jonathan Darnel said he was there that day to save lives.

Jonathan Darnel speaks at a news conference at the Hyatt Regency on April 5, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
Jonathan Darnel speaks at a news conference at the Hyatt Regency on April 5, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (photo: Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images)

The fight for the unborn continues, even from jail, Jonathan Darnel, one of the three pro-life activists who was convicted in federal court last Friday under the controversial Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE Act), told CNA.

Darnel, 41, who was charged with a felony conspiracy against rights and a FACE Act offense, now faces up to 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $350,000 maximum fine, along with Jean Marshall, 73, of Kingston, Massachusetts; and Joan Bell, 74, of Montague, New Jersey.

The FACE Act prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.”

Passed in 1993, the FACE Act was written to prosecute crimes at both abortion businesses and pro-life pregnancy facilities. Despite its broad areas of protection, it has been used almost exclusively against pro-life activists.

The three protesters, along with five others who were convicted for the same offenses in August, participated in a “conspiracy to create a blockade at the reproductive health care clinic to prevent the clinic from providing, and patients from receiving, reproductive health services,” according to the DOJ’s press release on the convictions.

Two doors were blocked by the protesters, who used their bodies, furniture, chains and ropes, the DOJ said.

Darnel, an evangelical Christian, filmed the protest. 

In the more-than-one-hour, 30-minute video of the protest, some of those who sat inside the facility blocking doors can be seen praying the Rosary and singing hymns to the Blessed Virgin Mary while refusing to leave.

“Pro-life rescuers are entering the doors of an abortion clinic and saving babies from death. This is very risky for the rescuers, but it’s about time we got serious about ending abortion again,” a description of the video reads.

Speaking to CNA on the eve of his conviction in a phone interview, Darnel said he was there that day to save lives. He told CNA that it’s estimated that the abortion facility, which advertises killing of a child up to “​​27-plus weeks of pregnancy,” was inoperable for about four hours during the sit-in protest.

It also appeared as if some women were turned away from the business that day and a staff member said that several appointments needed to be rescheduled, according to Darnel. 

“So we hope that some of those children were saved, but I can’t confirm that for sure,” he added.

Darnel, Marshall and Bell are currently incarcerated awaiting sentencing, along with five others who were convicted in a separate trial for violating the FACE Act.

Paulette Harlow of Kingston, Massachusetts, a woman in her mid-70s, is set to be tried on Oct. 23 on similar charges.

Darnel said he doesn’t believe he violated the FACE Act and is “frustrated” that the government brought charges against him. 

“FACE is a crime, but it shouldn’t be a crime because abortion shouldn’t be tolerated,” he said, adding that “it’s an honor to be taken like so many others.”

Darnel, who has engaged in pro-life work “quasi-full time” since 2009, said: “Except for the unjust execution of Christ, abortion is the worst thing that’s ever happened in the history of the world.” 

“I live in a nation that murders kids,” he added. 

“How can I say I love Christ and not respond with extreme zeal, extreme action, and drastic measures to this holocaust?”

Darnel said he filmed the protest that day because he wanted to inspire people to “get more serious about abortion,” adding that a “rescue” is one way to do that.

Asked if one can continue pro-life ministry in prison, Darnel said: “You certainly can.”

“I know the females who get incarcerated say they’re constantly meeting women who are abortion-minded and having opportunities to talk them out of it, show them a better way, or post-abortive women who need some kind of repentance and healing from that,” he said.  

As far as men go, Darnel said he is positive he is going to meet other inmates who have instigated or paid for abortion. 

“They’re probably less likely to talk about it than the women might be, but hopefully I can still be a good witness to them in one way or another,” he said. He added that his witness could help men recognize that involvement in abortion is wrong and inspire them to make amends for it.

Before his conviction, Darnel created a website dedicated to repealing the FACE Act, which says the federal law “was designed to protect the criminal abortion industry by cruelly punishing anti-abortion rescuers.”

Despite Darnel’s incarceration, others are taking up the fight against the FACE Act. Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy called for the repeal of the FACE Act in newly proposed legislation on Tuesday.

Darnel told CNA on Thursday night that “there might be something happening soon on that front,” referencing the repeal of the FACE Act.

In Roy’s press release Tuesday, he said: “Free Americans should never live in fear of their government targeting them because of their beliefs. Yet, 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 announcement also said that Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah will introduce companion legislation in the Senate.

“Who knows? This case may be putting the plight of the preborn and the injustice of abortion and all those who would stand up for them on the map,” Darnel told CNA.

“And I hope that maybe, just maybe, if our case is appealed to the Supreme Court, FACE might get struck down, and that might have big implications nationally.” 

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