2 Suspects Indicted in 2022 Attacks on Florida Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers
A Catholic facility was one of the targets of the alleged culprits, who are being charged under the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.
A crisis-pregnancy center run by the Archdiocese of Miami is among the pro-life pregnancy centers that two Florida residents are charged with attacking last year.
South Broward Pregnancy Help Center in Hollywood, a coastal city south of Fort Lauderdale, is one of three pregnancy centers the archdiocese operates. The building also houses the archdiocese’s Office of Respect Life.
The building at 4747 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood is owned by the Archdiocese of Miami, which has used it for the pregnancy center and the Respect Life Office since 2014, according to the archdiocese.
The pregnancy center offers, free of charge, pregnancy testing, ultrasound, prenatal classes, and counseling for pregnant women. For mothers of babies, it offers diapers, wipes, clothing, formula, cribs and car seats, as well as a baby boutique where mothers can shop for brand-new items, using points awarded to them for attending counseling classes.
“I applaud our police and justice system for taking very seriously these instances of domestic terrorism against pro-life facilities. Hate crimes of this sort should not be tolerated," Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski told the Register on Wednesday through a spokesman.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictments Tuesday, after they were unsealed in federal court.
Caleb Freestone, 27, and Amber Stewart-Smith, 23, were indicted Jan. 18 by a federal grand jury on three counts of violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994.
The pair and unnamed accomplices “did by threat of force intentionally injure, intimidate, and interfere with employees” of crisis-pregnancy centers by “spray-painting threats of force” “because the employees were providing and seeking to provide reproductive health services,” according to the indictment.
It’s the first time anyone has been arrested in connection with the dozens of attacks on pro-life offices and centers that began in early May 2022.
A federal public defender representing Stewart-Smith could not immediately be reached for comment. Stewart-Smith pleaded not guilty at arraignment late Monday afternoon and was released with conditions, according to court papers.
It wasn’t immediately clear which lawyer is representing Freestone. The status of his case was not clear from publicly available court papers as of Wednesday morning.
Crisis-pregnancy centers provide free products and services to women with problem pregnancies to help them and in hopes of persuading them not to have an abortion. They typically offer pregnancy tests, diapers, wipes, formula and counseling, among other things. Some also provide medical services.
On May 28, shortly before midnight, four people wearing masks spray-painted graffiti on the Archdiocese of Miami building in Hollywood, according to surveillance-camera video later published by Catholic News Agency. Among the messages were “If abortions aren’t safe then niether are you” (sic) and “Janes revenge” (sic).
On June 25, officials at LifeChoice Pregnancy Center in Winter Haven, about 42 miles southwest of Orlando, discovered graffiti saying, “YOUR TIME IS UP!!”; “ABORTION 4 ALL”; “Janes was here”; “We are everywhere”; and two symbols of Antifa, a loosely organized left-wing group that has engaged in violent demonstrations in the United State since mid-2020.
On July 3, a pregnancy center operated by Heartbeat of Miami in Hialeah, a city about 11 miles northwest of Miami, sustained damage to security cameras and had graffiti spray-painted on the building that said, “If abortions aren’t safe the neither are you” (sic).
The federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in May 1994, when Democrats held both chambers of Congress and the White House. A significant number of Republicans also voted for the bill.
It came in response to a period when some pro-life activists blockaded the entrance to abortion facilities to prevent pregnant women from getting into them. Another factor: In March 1993, a pro-life protester in Pensacola, Florida, shot three times in the back a doctor who performed abortions as he was entering an abortion business there, killing him.
The bill was enacted primarily to protect abortion centers. But the statute mentions a version of the word “abortion” only once; it mentions the word “reproductive” 11 times.
The statute prohibits “violent, threatening, obstructive, and destructive conduct that is intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with persons seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services.” It also bans “force or threat of force” against such places and provides civil and criminal penalties for anyone who “intentionally damages or destroys the property of a facility, or attempts to do so, because such facility provides reproductive health services.”
The law also stipulates that it applies to “a place of religious worship,” alongside of facilities providing “reproductive health services.”
Federal prosecutors say that convictions in this case could bring a maximum of 12 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and fines of up to $350,000.
The suspects indicted by federal authorities are left-wing activists.
The featured image on Stewart-Smith’s Facebook page as of Wednesday morning was an Antifa flag.
Freestone is an advocate for abortion and so-called comprehensive sex education. During the past year or so, he has attended several public meetings of the Miami-Dade County School Board, which has grappled with whether to include certain textbooks in its sex-education curriculum. Supporters of the textbooks say that they provide medically accurate information compiled by experts that kids need. Opponents say they promote degraded views of human sexuality and are age-inappropriate.
Freestone has clashed with opponents of the sex-education materials at board meetings. In January 2022, the school board issued a permanent trespass order barring him from future meetings, which Freestone has contested.
On July 20, Freestone was arrested at a school board meeting during a boisterous argument between socially conservative activists and certain members of the school board. He and supporters maintain he was sitting quietly when an activist pointed him out and officers asked him to leave.
“I think it’s a clear violation of my rights. It’s disappointing because I want to be there to support the push for sex education in schools,” Freestone told WLRN, a public radio station based in Miami.
A disorderly conduct charge against Freestone was later dismissed when prosecutors declined to pursue the case, according to the Miami-Dade County Clerk of Courts.
A reporter for WLRN said she witnessed Freestone outside a school board meeting on July 28 “yelling at some Moms for Liberty members as they gave press interviews.” She asked him what he hoped to accomplish. Freestone responded: “Well, at this point I don’t really have anything else to do. I’ve been barred from making public comment and asserting my First Amendment rights. So I’ll be productive where I can be.”
On July 9, 2022, six days after the attack on the crisis-pregnancy center in nearby Hialeah, Freestone climbed to the top of a metal structure and hung a green banner that said “S.O.S. Biden They Won’t Stop At Roe.”
“Abort the court!” Freestone called out from the structure, according to video published by NBC 6 News in Miami.
He was detained by police but not arrested, and later returned to the scene, where he told a reporter:
“They say to vote; that’s their solution. Well, I’m not going to stand by ’til November. It’s a long time; there’s a lot of work to be done between now and then. And it does not require these skills; it does not require this level of risk; it does not require significant amounts of participation. Everyone has the ability to contribute to a movement.”
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