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Durham report bolsters GOP case against Biden criminalizing pro-life activism

Democrats accuse GOP of "false equivalency" between attacks on pregnancy resource centers and abortion clinics. Centers claim Democratic attorneys general stand in the way of justice.

Published: May 16, 2023 11:02pm

The Biden administration is selectively prosecuting pro-life activists on trumped-up federal charges of inhibiting access to abortion clinics while turning a blind eye to vandalism and threats against pro-life pregnancy resource centers. 

Criminal attacks on abortion clinics are so "run of the mill" that staff don't report most of them to law enforcement, creating a "false equivalency" to threats against PRCs. 

These were the dueling narratives Tuesday between Republicans and Democrats, respectively, at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on "the implications" of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, a 1994 law that protects any facility that offers "reproductive health services" including PRCs, churches and abortion clinics.

Both parties used the release a day earlier of Special Counsel John Durham's long-delayed final report on the FBI's Russia collusion probe – which vindicated former President Trump and while savaging U.S. law enforcement and the intelligence community – to validate their talking point about the clinics and First Amendment rights. 

The Durham report validates Americans' fears that anyone can become a federal target on thin grounds, said subcommittee Chairman Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican.

"You could be a Catholic attending a mass" and face federal investigation, said Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the full House Judiciary Committee, referring to the FBI's documented interest in infiltrating Catholic parishes to identify "radical-traditionalist" elements.

New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the full committee's top Democrat, dismissed the "discredited" report as just "opinions," while Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson, a fellow Democrat, repeatedly called it the "Bull Durham report," possibly referencing either the 1988 Kevin Costner baseball movie or Alabama segregationist Bull Connor.

The Georgia Democrat also accused Republicans of including churches in the hearing to "confuse the public" and inflate the threat to "so-called pro-life pregnancy centers." He crowed when the Family Research Council's Arielle Del Turco confirmed that only 57 of the 420 "acts of hostility" against churches the group documented from January 2018 to September 2022 were abortion-related.

Pro-life organizations faced more than a hundred "firebombing" and vandalism incidents within five months of the Supreme Court's leaked Dobbs draft overturning federal abortion rights, Mike Johnson said, referring to research by the Crime Prevention Research Center. 

Yet the Justice Department waited until Republicans took the House to issue its first indictments for attacks on PRCs, all in Florida, and offer a $25,000 reward for a Wisconsin firebombing, the Louisiana Republican said. 

The militant decentralized group Jane's Revenge, known for scrawling "if abortions aren't safe you aren't either" and similar messages on PRCs, often takes credit for the attacks.

That stands in contrast to federal prosecutions of pro-life activists such as Catholic father of seven Mark Houck for knocking down a clinic volunteer harassing his son, and 87-year-old Eva Edl, who uses a wheelchair, for "singing and praying" near a clinic and blocking a door, Mike Johnson also said. 

The top Democrat on the subcommittee, Mary Gay Scanlon, of Pennsylvania, said the panel's GOP majority had "stacked the hearing" to deflect the "decades-long history of threats, violence and intimidation" against abortion clinics and broader right-wing violence such a beating Monday that hospitalized staff for Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.)

Democrats repeatedly invoked National Abortion Federation (NAF) statistics on clinic violence, including spikes last year in stalking, obstruction and bomb threats in states that protected abortion after the Dobbs ruling. Nadler claimed the FBI told committee staff 75% of FACE Act investigations concern attacks on pro-life facilities.

Pro-life activist Houck told lawmakers he lost his cool when Planned Parenthood "escort" Bruce Love "made a direct line" toward his 12-year-old, told the boy "how evil his father is" as they prayed and came back later to "badger" the boy.

"He did what a dad would do," Jordan said.

Philadelphia authorities, who know Houck well from two decades of activism, passed on prosecution. Federal charges arrived days later but the feds ignored Houck's offer to turn himself in peacefully, leading to a warrantless raid nearly a year after the Love shove, he said.

"They were pointing M-16 guns at me and my wife," according to Houck. "The intention was to humiliate me … and sow fear in pro-life America." A jury acquitted Houck, sparing him up to 11 years in federal prison.

Minnesota PRC chain New Life Family Services experienced the worst attacks and "outright lies" in its 50-year history in the wake of Dobbs, Executive Director Tammy Kocher said

Jane's Revenge vandals caused $30,000 in damage to New Life's new Minneapolis facility, which then spent $60,000 just on "intrusion-resistant window film, a typical expense now for PRCs, Kocher said.

She also said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison released a false "consumer alert," despite New Life getting referrals for health services from abortion facilities,

First Liberty Institute senior counsel Jeremy Dys said that last year then-Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey threatened a PRC client with sanctions after vandals struck.

Only Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is known to have brought a FACE Act civil suit against vandals, which helped First Liberty to identify and sue the vandals as well, Dys said. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland is standing in the way of PRCs pursuing FACE Act remedies by failing to identify suspects, Dys told Jordan.

"Every administration has enforced the FACE Act," NAF Chief Legal and Strategy Officer Talcott Camp told lawmakers, reciting recent attacks on abortion clinics such as "inert ricin" sent to a New Mexico facility and arson that delayed a Wyoming facility's opening by a year.

When Camp told Rep. Dan Bishop the Wyoming case hadn't moved forward, likely due to a "shortage of resources to prosecute," the North Carolina Republican suggested the feds wasted those resources on Houck to corruptly "make an example" out of a pro-life activist. 

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, prompted a lengthy pause from Camp when asked if she was participating in the administration's Reproductive Rights Task Force.

"I may have had contact" with the task force but not to discuss the FACE Act, she responded.

Roy next put Camp on the defensive by noting she was surreptitiously recorded at an NAF convention, allegedly discussing how to preserve aborted baby body parts to sell them.

"When the skull is broken, that’s really sharp!" the video attributes to Camp, then an ACLU director. "I understand why people are talking about getting that skull out, that calvarium."

Camp told Roy the video was "heavily edited," it was "impossible to know" whether she actually said that, and that the footage caused three murders at a Colorado abortion facility.

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