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US: Pro-life activists jailed for 2020 “rescue” at abortion facility

Three pro-life activists in the US have been sentenced to years in prison for their involvement in a “rescue” at a Washington abortion centre.

Those who received federal prison sentences include 30-year-old activist Lauren Handy, who was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison for organising the rescue in October 2020.

In March 2022, Handy was behind another abortion clinic rescue during which five late-term aborted infants were recovered. The bodies of 115 aborted babies and five late-stage aborted infants were taken from a medical waste box which was found outside the same abortion facility, Washington Surgi-clinic.

John Hinshaw, 69, of Levittown, New York, was sentenced to a year and nine months for his involvement in the rescue, organised by Handy. Handy’s technical sentence was four years and nine months – minus the nine months she has already spent in jail. William Goodman, 54, of the Bronx, was sentenced to 27 months.

The pro-lifers stood trial for blocking access to the centre in downtown Washington DC during the “traditional rescue,” which involves physically entering abortion facilities and refusing to leave, with the intention of convincing women not to proceed with abortions. Handy, along with nine others, was convicted by a jury last year, and charged over the pro-life “blockade” of the Washington-Surgi-Clinic.

Handy becomes the first person to be sentenced for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, a 1994 law that prohibits threats to and obstruction of an individual seeking abortion services. The 30-year-old, who was convicted by a jury in 2023, was among a group fo nine charged following the pro-life blockade at the centre in 2020. 

Speaking as her sentence was handed down, Handy admitted things had been “challenging,” but remained notably defiant.

“This time has been challenging but I refuse to be jaded. Why? Because life goes on… even in jail. So I might as well continue to love and cry and scream and dance. That is joy. The feeling of being fully alive without shame. Which is something no court can take from me,” the director of activism at the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU) said.

Martin Cannon, senior counsel for the Thomas More society, which represented Handy, said that Ms Handy deserved “thanks, not a gut-wrenching prison sentence.”

“There was only one thing around which Ms. Handy and her co-defendants were unified, and that was nonviolence,” Cannon said, as he vowed to appeal the sentence.

“They conspired to be peaceful. Yet, today, the Court granted the Biden Department of Justice its wish by sentencing Ms. Handy to 57 months—nearly 5 years in prison. For her efforts to peacefully protect the lives of innocent preborn human beings, Ms. Handy deserves thanks, not a gut-wrenching prison sentence. 

“We will vigorously pursue an appeal of Ms. Handy’s conviction and attack the root cause of this injustice, that is, the FACE Act—which we believe is unconstitutional and should never again be used to persecute peaceful pro-lifers.”

Terrisa Bukovanac, the founder of PAAU – the group which Handy is a part of –  said that the Biden Administration and the Department of Justice had “reached a new level of tyranny,” as she slammed “blatant viewpoint discrimination.”

“Today the Biden Administration and Merrick Garland’s DOJ have reached a new level of tyranny. There is no other social justice movement in our nation whose activists are subject to years in federal prison for nonviolent resistance. This blatant viewpoint discrimination has incalculable consequences for babies, their parents, those who defend them, and for peaceful activists across movements worldwide. I continue to stand by Lauren and the other 8 defendants who risked their freedoms to stand in defense of the least of us.”

Handing down the 57-month-sentence, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said: “Americans have been protesting in favor of and against abortion access for the better part of a century, and there may be nothing more American than these protests.

“But the law does not protect violence or obstructive conduct — nor should it,” Kollar-Kotelly continued. “That’s what you’re being punished for, not your views on abortion nor your very-American commitment to peaceful protest.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sanjay Patel argued in the 90-minute sentencing hearing that there was a need for deterrence, claiming that without a stiffer punishment “the purpose of sentencing may be lost on this defendant.” Prosecutors also referred to the 30-year-old woman as“an active antiabortion extremist “ in court.

Handy’s defense lawyer Martin A. Cannon pointed to more than nine letters of support for Handy and likened her actions to those of civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, telling the court that she “did not act out of self-interest, but … at her own peril,” in good faith and out of conscience.

Meanwhile, 69-year-old Hinshaw, who also received a prison sentence on Tuesday, addressing the court, paid an emotional tribute to his wife and his granddaughter, who he said was born at 32 weeks gestation.

“My wife knows that she carries our children from their beginning through eternity. But she knows that I cannot share this same bond because I am a man. There’s a special maternal bond between child and mother,” he told the court.

“My granddaughter was born at 32 weeks gestation.

He then referenced the five infants found outside Cesare Santangelo’s DC abortion clinic:

“How is it that my granddaughter is a treasure, and the others are trash? There is a reason why today’s gospel reading is to lay down one’s life for his friends. This is not a coincidence.”

“I am sorry that I have failed in my vocation as a father to protect children. I am sorry to this court that it has failed in its vocation to protect its nation's children.

I am sorry to the bereaved mothers who have lost their children to abortion. We are a nation of bereaved mothers.

I am sorry to this generation that it has lost a third of its own to abortion. I am sorry that it’s lost its members to pornography.

I stand convicted, though guiltless. I take on the guilt of this judge. Accept my love for you, judge, as expiation for your guilt.”

In a written statement, the U.S. attorney for the District, Matthew Graves, claimed the defendants conspired to use force to prevent fellow citizens from exercising their lawful right to get an abortion.

 “People cannot resort to using force and intimidation to prevent others from engaging in lawful activity simply because they disagree with the law. The Department was founded to protect the civil rights of our citizens and remains steadfast in this mission,” he said.

Criticism over the sentencing came from Penny Nance, chief executive of Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee, who blasted the law as “an unconstitutional breach of the states’ police power,” claiming that “the Biden administration has used it to attack political opponents most blatantly.”

Republican politician, Marjorie Taylor Greene, also hit out at the decision.

American journalist Joel Berry also hit out at police for never investigating the deaths of the aborted babies found outside the abortion centre, while punishing Handy.

The remaining six pro-life activists will be sentenced later this month. 


Maria Maynes



This article first appeared in Gript and is printed here with permission


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