Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 16:30 pm (CNA).
The Department of Justice on Tuesday indicted two suspects accused of vandalizing three pro-life pregnancy centers in Florida in June 2022 in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The indictment against the two Floridians, 27-year-old Caleb Freestone and 23-year-old Amber Smith-Stewart, accuses them of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which is also known as the FACE Act. The indictment alleges that their actions amount to a conspiracy to prevent the employees from providing services. They could face up to 12 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and up to $350,000 in fines.
Pro-life pregnancy centers, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, provide free services and resources to pregnant women, including alternatives to abortion.
LifeChoice Pregnancy Center, a pro-life pregnancy center based in Winter Haven, was spray-painted with several threatening messages including “YOUR TIME IS UP!!,” “WE’RE COMING for U,” “if abortions aren’t safe than niether [sic] are you,” and “We are everywhere.” The facility was unavailable for comment by the time of publication. Two other facilities were allegedly targeted: one in Hollywood and one in Hialeah.
The indictment alleges that the messages were threats of force to intimidate and interfere with the employees at the facilities because of the reproductive health services they provide. It alleges that the two Floridians intentionally damaged and destroyed the facility’s property because of the reproductive health services they provide. Both of those actions violate the FACE Act.
The act became law in the 1990s to establish special protections for reproductive health centers, including pro-life facilities and abortion facilities. It established certain federal penalties for threatening, damaging, and obstructing conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with a person’s right to obtain or provide reproductive care.
According to the DOJ, the FBI Tampa Field Office carried out the investigation with help from the Miami Police Department.
Some pro-life activists were grateful for the indictment but expressed frustration about the length of time it took to indict the suspects and the lack of arrests in other attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers throughout the country.
The indictments represent the first suspects known to have been arrested in attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers since a rash of incidents of vandalism began in 2022.
Lynda Bell, the president of Florida Right to Life, told CNA that she is pleased with the indictment.
“It took way too long … and I know there’s way more out there [who] need to be arrested,” Bell said.
CNA has independently tracked and confirmed nearly 60 attacks nationwide on pro-life pregnancy centers since May 2022. This includes a significant number of threatening messages through vandalism and several fires. One pro-life center in Wisconsin was firebombed. The organization also claimed that the attacks are underreported because the pro-life centers are trying to protect their clients.
Bell said those who are attacking pro-life centers should be brought to justice and expressed a concern that the attacks “have not been a priority” for the DOJ. Even though the firebombing of the Wisconsin pro-life pregnancy center took place in May, she said there have not yet been any arrests.
“That’s unheard of with the technology our [law enforcement] has,” Bell added.
On Jan. 11, the House of Representatives passed a resolution that condemned the recent attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers. The resolution, introduced by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana), passed the chamber 222-209, with most Republicans supporting the measure and most Democrats opposing it.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, issued a statement expressing dissatisfaction with the DOJ for targeting pro-life Americans.
“These charges are good first steps, but the fight for equal justice is far from over,” the statement read.
“With a new House GOP majority positioned to exercise its oversight powers, we are finally beginning to see some accountability. Yet the Justice Department continues to target the people of states that protect unborn children and their mothers. Congressional Democrats had the opportunity to condemn the violence and all but three refused, and again we have had to call on the White House to stop vilifying pro-life Americans. The pro-life movement is keeping a watchful eye on this administration and we will not be silent in the face of violence and intimidation.”
Today, Pennsylvania resident and pro-life advocate Mark Houck appeared in court, where he faces federal charges for allegedly violating the FACE Act. The charges stem from an incident that took place during a protest at an abortion clinic. Houck was arrested a year later by the FBI in a raid of his home as his family looked on.