- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2024

A pro-life leader who stored fetuses inside her D.C. home was given a nearly five-year prison sentence Tuesday for blocking an abortion clinic, as fellow activists accused the Biden administration of using federal law enforcement to go after political opponents.

U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly handed down a 57-month sentence to Lauren Handy — who authorities discovered had five fetuses in her home when she was charged two years ago — for organizing a 2020 blockade of a D.C. abortion clinic that saw 10 pro-life advocates infiltrate the facility and chain up the entrance.

Co-defendants John Hinshaw and William Goodman were also sentenced Tuesday to 21 and 27 months behind bars, respectively, for their roles in the blockade at Washington Surgi-Clinic in Northwest.

One of the demonstrators pleaded guilty in March 2023, and the remaining six are scheduled to be sentenced later this month.

Friends of the defendants packed the D.C. courtroom to shout “You’re a hero, Lauren!” to Handy and reciprocate the wide grin with which Hinshaw greeted the crowd during their separate hearings.

Others were seen clasping their hands in prayer or saying the rosary while Judge Kollar-Kotelly laid out their respective punishments.

The sentencing comes as the Justice Department has cracked down on pro-life advocates for clinic demonstrations in recent years.

Federal prosecutors are threatening some activists with long prison sentences while other protesters have been taken into custody at gunpoint during early-morning raids.

Supporters said authorities are trying to make an example of Handy by giving her one of the harshest sentences.

“She’s clearly being used as a pawn by the government because, as they said … she’s the first one in history to be sentenced for this exact combination of charges,” Caroline Smith, the executive director of Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, told The Washington Times.

Handy is part of the organization.

“They’re clearly trying to … put her on the pedestal and say, ‘You don’t want to be this,” Ms. Smith said.

Handy, 30, of the District of Columbia; Hinshaw, 69, of New York; and Goodman, 52, of New York, were convicted last year, along with five other defendants, on conspiracy charges and for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances, or FACE Act.

Prosecutors said Handy and co-defendant Jonathan Darnel orchestrated the October 2020 blockade at the Washington Surgi-Clinic after Handy made an appointment under a fake name.

Once Handy was allowed inside, prosecutors said the codefendants shoved their way in and blocked off the entrance.

A nurse at the facility sprained her ankle during the fracas while one woman climbed through a window to access the clinic. Darnel livestreamed the incident.

Ms. Smith said Handy and others were protesting late-stage abortions performed at the clinic.

Handy previously acquired aborted fetuses from a disposal worker outside the facility, Ms. Smith said, and at least five of the unborn children were at 28 weeks gestation or older.

Federal authorities confiscated the fetuses when Handy was indicted in March 2022.

Prosecutors had sought a sentence of more than six years, at the higher end of Handy’s offense range. But Judge Kollar-Kotelly gave the defendant a 57-month prison term, with credit for the nine months she’s already spent locked up in Alexandria.  

Handy didn’t speak at her sentencing, but Hinshaw used the hearing as a chance to bash the Justice Department, Judge Kollar-Kotelly and the practice of abortion, which he called “court-protected murder.”

Hinshaw said he accepted his punishment but advised Judge Kollar-Kotelly that they both must face the “true judge” — God.

The judge told both defendants that, despite letters of support detailing their compassion for others, she didn’t find their actions at the Washington Surgi-Clinic to be compassionate or empathetic.

Richard Hinshaw, the older brother of defendant Hinshaw, said afterward that the prosecution of pro-life activists is going too far.

“Put them in jail briefly, the punishment for a sit-in as it’s always been, but not these draconian sentences like the FACE law that are specifically targeting pro-life civil disobedience,” Mr. Hinshaw told The Times.

Six people were convicted this year for their roles in a 2021 FACE Act violation in Nashville, Tennessee.

A police officer who testified during the January trial described the protesters as “peaceful and not aggressive,” according to the Tennessean. The defendants could face up to 10 years in prison, the maximum the FACE Act allows, when they are sentenced in July.

Pro-life activist Mark Houck had his Pennsylvania home raided by a team of nearly two dozen FBI agents in 2022 after he was charged with a FACE Act violation.

The charge stemmed from a 2021 incident outside a Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia where Mr. Houck said he shoved a clinic volunteer because the aide was harassing his 12-year-old son.

Local courts dismissed the case, but federal authorities went after the father of seven in the morning raid nearly a year later.  

Mr. Houck, who was acquitted, filed a lawsuit last fall against the FBI and Justice Department because “government agents opted for excessive and overwhelming force that resulted in unnecessary danger and fear.”

Mr. Hinshaw said the federal legal action is providing a stark contrast to how the DOJ is treating the criminals who firebomb pro-life pregnancy centers or vandalize Catholic churches for their pro-life stance.

Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, and Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican, seized on this issue in a Newsweek op-ed published this month.

“When President Bill Clinton signed the FACE Act into law in 1994, the legislation was meant to protect abortion clinics, pregnancy centers and places of worship from violent attacks. In practice, it has become the Department of Justice’s favorite tool to attack pro-lifers and people of faith,” the politicians wrote.

Four of the six other pro-lifers convicted in the Surgi-Clinic occupation — Herb Geraghty, Jean Marshall, Joan Bell and Darnel — are set to be sentenced Wednesday. Heather Idoni will be sentenced on May 21, and Paulette Harlow on May 31.

Jay Smith was sentenced last year to 10 months for his role in the occupation of the clinic.

• Matt Delaney can be reached at mdelaney@washingtontimes.com.

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