In a continuing streak of convictions against pro-life activists, three more people were found guilty of protesting at an abortion clinic in Washington, D.C. The verdicts, along with the prior convictions, reflect an escalating use of the justice system as a weapon to silence dissenting voices on the abortion issue.
A federal jury convicted three defendants of charges of federal civil rights offenses in connection with the Oct. 22, 2020, invasion of a reproductive health care clinic in Washington, D.C.
According to evidence presented at trial, Jonathan Darnel, 41, of Arlington, Virginia; Jean Marshall, 73, of Kingston, Massachusetts; and Joan Bell, 74, of Montague, New Jersey, engaged 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. As part of the conspiracy, Marshall and Bell traveled to the Washington, D.C. area to meet with Darnel and participate in a clinic blockade that was directed by another co-conspirator and broadcast on Facebook.
According to evidence presented at trial, Marshall and Bell were among a group that forcefully entered the clinic and blockaded two clinic doors using their bodies, furniture, chains and ropes. Once the blockade was established, Darnel – who remained outside the clinic – live-streamed their activities on social media. The evidence also showed that the defendants violated the FACE Act by using a physical obstruction to injure, intimidate and interfere with the clinic’s employees and a patient because they were providing or obtaining reproductive health services.
The defendants each face a maximum penalty of 11 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $350,000. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who presided over the trial, ordered the defendants immediately detained as required by statute. Sentencing will be scheduled at a later date.
The Justice Department’s actions in this case are a chilling reminder of how our federal government is currently being weaponized to target people who are not on the progressive side of issues like abortion and others. These folks did not use violence against others while protesting at the clinic. Some kneeled in prayer and passed out pro-life literature. Yes, some of these folks might have blocked the entrance, but the question is: Do these actions warrant throwing someone in a cage for a decade?
The protesters did not vandalize the abortion facility. They did not threaten anyone with bodily harm. They were simply advocating against abortion. The notion that someone could face so much prison time for a nonviolent offense is ludicrous on its face.
But it is not difficult to see what is happening here, is it? These convictions are meant to send a message to those who might decide to make their voices heard on the abortion issue and a clear weaponization of the federal government to chill speech. Hopefully, it does not scare others into using their voices to advocate for life.