Pro-Life Activist Mark Houck Found Not Guilty of Violating FACE Act

Pro-life activist and Catholic father of seven Mark Houck was found not guilty on Monday on federal assault charges brought by President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice (DOJ), Catholic News Agency reported.

The DOJ decided to press charges against Houck, 48, who pushed a Planned Parenthood escort twice on October 13, 2021 — even though local authorities declined to press charges. Houck said he pushed the escort, 73-year-old Bruce Love, because he was verbally harassing his 12-year-old son as he was sidewalk counseling outside the abortion clinic.

The DOJ sent a team of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents to his home of September 23, 2022, allegedly arresting him at gunpoint in front of his wife and children. The DOJ accused Houck of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE Act), a 1993 law created to prosecute crimes at pro-life pregnancy centers that has “been used almost exclusively against pro-life activists,” CNA’s Joe Bukuras detailed. The FACE Act outlaws “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.”

Houck was charged with two counts of violating the FACE Act and faced 11 years in federal prison if he had been found guilty. According to Bukuras, supporters of Houck “cried and hugged one another” after the verdict was read in the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

“U.S. District Judge Gerald Pappert himself raised the possibility that the case should never have been brought to trial, asking the prosecution Thursday whether the federal FACE Act didn’t ‘seem to be stretched a little thin here,'” the report continues.

Attorney General Merrick Garland listens listens as President Joe Biden speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Friday, May 13, 2022, during an event to highlight state and local leaders who are investing American Rescue Plan funding. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Attorney General Merrick Garland listens as President Joe Biden speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Friday, May 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Houck was sidewalk counseling outside the clinic at the time of the incident in connection with his work for The King’s Men, a group dedicated to helping men become better husbands, fathers, and leaders. The three-day trial revolved around if Houck pushed Love because Love was providing reproductive health services, which would be in violation of the FACE Act. Love denied verbally provoking Houck, the report states.

Jury deliberations began on Friday but were “deadlocked” by the evening. The jury resumed deliberations on Monday, and an alternate juror subsequently took the place of one of the original jurors by 1:30 p.m. The jury then found Houck not guilty on both counts.

Houck’s arrest notably came after the DOJ established a “Reproductive Rights Task Force” to “protect access to reproductive health care” in anticipation for the end of Roe v. Wade. In 2022, the DOJ went after 26 pro-life individuals in 2022 with alleged violations of the FACE Act, even though FBI Director Christopher Wray admitted in November 2022 that approximately 70 percent of abortion-related threats of violence in the United States since the Dobbs decision have been against pro-life groups. Out of more than 100 attacks of churches and pro-life pregnancy resource centers, the DOJ finally indicted two pro-abortion activists out of Florida accused of vandalism and FACE Act violations last week.

Peter Breen, Thomas More Society Executive Vice President and Head of Litigation celebrated the victory and condemned the Biden administration’s “intimidation against pro-life people.”

“We are, of course, thrilled with the outcome. Mark and his family are now free of the cloud that the Biden administration threw upon them. We took on Goliath — the full might of the United States government — and won,” Breen said. “The jury saw through and rejected the prosecution’s discriminatory case, which was harassment from day one. This is a win for Mark and the entire pro-life movement. The Biden Department of Justice’s intimidation against pro-life people and people of faith has been put in its place.”

40 Days for Life’s General Counsel Matt Britton said the case is “not just a win for the pro-life movement and Mark, but for free speech and every single American.”

“The federal government trumped up charges months after a local case had been dismissed. If the feds had prevailed, every argument in front of every abortion facility, no matter the subject, could result in federal charges,” Britton said. “The feds tried to make a point that they would not tolerate pro-life speech and tried to make Mark an example that they would charge and intimidate pro-lifers, all while claiming that they represent democracy and free speech. But not today. The system worked, and justice prevailed.”

The case is The United States of America v. Houck, No. 2:22-cv-323 in the United State District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

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