FACE-ing the Facts

EDITORIAL: Despite its original intention to protect abortion, the Department of Justice is now being forced to utilize federal legislation against pro-abortion extremists.

Mark Houck prays with his family outside the courthouse just after his acquittal in Philadelphia Jan. 30, 2023.
Mark Houck prays with his family outside the courthouse just after his acquittal in Philadelphia Jan. 30, 2023. (photo: Screenshot / Joe Bukuras/CNA/EWTN)

An ancient aphorism of the Catholic faith states that out of every evil, God can create a greater good.

This principle comes to mind in the context of recent developments regarding federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrance Act prosecutions, initiated by the Department of Justice. On Jan. 30, a Philadelphia jury exonerated pro-life sidewalk advocate Mark Houck of the flimsy FACE-related charges brought against him by the DOJ last year. 

Only a few days before his acquittal, the DOJ unexpectedly initiated FACE Act proceedings against two pro-abortion radicals who are accused of damaging pro-life pregnancy facilities in Florida.

The evil in play here is the ongoing attempt by the DOJ to improperly weaponize the FACE Act to stifle peaceful pro-life protesters. This weaponization has deliberately intensified in recent months, in keeping with Attorney General Merrick Garland’s public commitment last July to mobilize the federal legal apparatus in support of abortion rights after Roe v. Wade was overturned.

The greater good in play is the fact that the DOJ is now being forced to utilize this federal legislation against some of the pro-abortion extremists who have unleashed an ongoing wave of violence against pregnancy centers, ever since the text of the draft U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe was leaked at the beginning of last May. 

Of course it’s also true that the announcement of the FACE Act prosecution in Florida, stemming from attacks on three crisis-pregnancy centers there, is a drop in the bucket compared to the 23 pro-life advocates who have been charged under the federal legislation since President Joe Biden assumed office two years ago. 

This disparity has become even more glaring, in light of the more than 100 brazen attacks that pro-abortion activists have carried out since May. Given this backdrop, it’s understandable that many pro-life leaders remain unconvinced the DOJ has any intention of applying the FACE Act fairly under Garland’s leadership.

Be that as it may, the attorney general may not have much choice in the matter. Once he decided it was legitimate to array the legal system against pro-lifers, it was inevitable that federal officials were going to be forced to defend the obviously unequal application of the FACE Act. After all, since the Clinton-era legislation applies to all facilities that provide “reproductive health services” — not merely sites where abortions are available — it’s not possible to brush aside questions about the DOJ’s failure to make it an equal priority to initiate prosecutions of those who attack pregnancy centers.

Moreover, the FACE Act is even more directly applicable in cases involving the numerous recent attacks on Catholic churches by abortion activists, given that its provisions specifically apply to “places of religious worship,” as well. 

FBI Director Christopher Wray, who appears to be more even-handed on abortion than Garland, acknowledged this context under questioning during a Senate hearing last fall. 

Wray admitted that since Dobbs was overturned, pro-lifers have been the targets of 70% of the abortion-related incidents his agents have investigated. This disparity would certainly be even higher if law enforcement officials were willing to mobilize investigations into violence committed by pro-abortionists as aggressively as they pursue allegations against pro-life advocates.

But the more significant point is that Wray promised during his Senate appearance that the FBI would be “equal opportunity” when it came to investigating abortion-related violence, no matter “what side of the issue you are.” Assuming that’s true, the Florida prosecution is guaranteed to be merely the first among many FACE Act prosecutions of perpetrators of the ongoing wave of violence against pregnancy centers and churches — even though that’s the exact opposite of what the DOJ intended when it began to carry out its pro-abortion-rights marching orders during this administration. 

In other words, Attorney General Garland and the entire DOJ are going to have to face the fact that they are required to apply federal laws fairly and equally, as they are written — whether they like it or not.