On a pink background, a hand holds up a brown sign reading, "Abortion is healthcare."

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Anti-choice figures decry a weaponized Justice Department after five anti-abortion activists are convicted for a DC abortion clinic blockade

Anti-abortion figures expressed support for the defendants’ blockade, claiming that they were preventing “literal infanticide” and that the judge and jury had a “clear bias” against them.

On August 29, five anti-abortion activists were convicted of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act after orchestrating a blockade in front of Washington Surgi-Clinic in October 2020. Anti-abortion figures in the media have not only attempted to justify the actions of the defendants, but have also echoed similar claims made by other right-wing figures that the Justice Department is being weaponized against them.

  • Five defendants were convicted after staging an anti-abortion blockade

    • Five anti-abortion activists, including two members of the anti-abortion group Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, were charged with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994. The defendants allegedly used chains, bike locks, and ropes to block the entrance to Washington Surgi-Clinic in October 2020. They face up to 11 years in prison and fines up to $350,000. [Washington Post, 8/29/23]
    • Prosecutors stated that Lauren Handy, the director of activism and mutual aid for PAAU, orchestrated the blockade. They alleged that she used a fake name to book an appointment with the clinic in order to determine what times were best to conduct their blockade. Handy had previously faced trespassing charges at other abortion clinics across the country. [Washington Post, 8/29/23]
  • PAAU re-popularized so-called abortion clinic “rescues” in recent years, contributing to a rise in anti-abortion violence and harassment

    • PAAU is an anti-abortion group that caters to liberal messaging by suggesting that abortion is a form of oppression. Founded in 2021, the group regularly participates in abortion clinic “rescues” and has protested against access to medical abortion. [Media Matters, 1/19/23; Daily Beast, 2/3/23]
    • Abortion clinic “rescues” were originally popularized in the ’80s and ’90s and led to the creation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994. These so-called “rescues” are performed by anti-abortion activists attempting to convince those seeking abortion care to change their minds, and are often rife with harassment against both abortion providers and patients. [Mother Jones, 9/2018; Vice, 4/26/23]
    • PAAU used social media and the hashtag #bringbackrescue to lead a resurgence of the practice in recent years. At the same time, the National Abortion Federation has reported massive increases in anti-abortion violence at clinics nationwide. [Media Matters, 4/26/23; National Abortion Federation, 2022]
    • Members of PAAU were previously sentenced for trespassing at clinics. Handy was also accused of having 5 fetuses in her Washington, D.C., home, which PAAU claimed she had because she planned to “give them a proper burial and a funeral.” [Patch, 7/14/22; CNN 4/5/22]
  • In defense of convicted anti-abortion defendants, right-wing media echoed familiar claims of a weaponized Justice Department

    • On Twitter/X, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America claimed that the federal government is being weaponized against anti-abortion groups. In their post, the organization said that Dr. Cesare Santangelo, who runs Washington Surgi-Clinic, is an “abortionist” who commits “atrocities.” [Twitter/X, 8/30/23]

    • Terri Bukovinac, the founder of PAAU, claimed that the defendants’ motive was to “prevent literal infanticide.” In her post, she also claimed that “the judge and jury had a clear bias” against them. [Twitter/X, 8/30/23]
    • Right-wing podcaster Julie Kelly called for the Washington, D.C. U.S. attorney’s office, FBI field office, and federal court to be “shut down” in response to the conviction. [Twitter/X, 8/29/23]
    • The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles claimed that the defendants were “political prisoners” held by the “evil regime apparatchiks” in Washington, D.C. for protesting against an “infanticide factory.” Knowles continued, claiming that “the government is rounding up ordinary Americans who voice their opposition to the wholesale slaughter of infants.” [The Daily Wire, The Michael Knowles Show, 8/30/23]
    • Founder of anti-abortion group LiveAction, Lila Rose, called the defendants’ trial “a sham with a biased pro-abortion judge who has made a mockery of our justice system.” Rose continued in a thread, calling the defendants “heroes” and making the claim that the Justice Department acted “capriciously and illegitimately” for “jailing Americans for exercising their 1st Amendment rights.” [Twitter/X, 8/29/23]
    • LifeNews published an article quoting the Thomas More Society, the legal group defending Handy, which claimed that the Biden administration is attempting to “chill pro-life speech and activism.” In the article, LifeNews also stated that “reportedly, at least four [members of the jury] are strong supporters of legalized abortion.” [LifeNews, 8/29/23]