Hostility to pro-life activists taken too far

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In 1994, Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

It criminalized the use of physical force or threats to injure or intimidate a woman seeking an abortion, the use of physical force or threats to injure or intimidate someone from exercising their right to religious freedom at a place of worship and, the intentional destruction of an abortion clinic or place of worship.

The FACE Act was designed to address the concerns of abortion activists who were worried about some of the more radical pro-life protesters who had either killed abortion providers, or stood outside of clinics to harass female patients.

The fact that this was a statistically small percentage of those of us in the movement did not matter to the legislators, or to the media. I remember reading a number of commentaries about how grateful women should be that their right to be free from dangerous “anti-choice” terrorists had been codified.

FACE was challenged in federal court, but its constitutionality was upheld under the Commerce Clause, the reasoning being that anything that impacts interstate commerce, including abortion, falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The Supreme Court has rejected appeals, and it’s the law of the land.

So, however, is the right to defend one’s child against sexual harassment.

Last week, a well-known pro-life activist named Mark Houck received an early morning visit from a team of FBI agents at his home in Pennsylvania, and was arrested on charges of having violated the FACE Act.

He was handcuffed in front of his children. According to his wife, but later denied by the Department of Justice, the agents held him at gunpoint. The case is ongoing.

The thing I want to focus on, here, is the troubling increase in attacks on pro-life activism. Language is powerful, and using it to change the perception of a victim or victimizer is effective. The people who hate that Roe v. Wade was overturned have a tendency to use “anti-choice.”

Those of us who respect unborn babies almost always use “pro-life,” and the rest fall into more neutral territory.

But that territory is being encroached upon by increasingly radicalized abortion rights activists who see anyone carrying a rosary, shouting Bible verses, holding up disturbing photos of aborted children or even just imploring women not to go inside as terrorists.

Now, they have a friendly Department of Justice at their disposal, one that is ready to conduct a pre-dawn raid on a husband and father of seven young children.

In my opinion, the FACE act goes too far. One man’s free speech is another woman’s intimidation. Defining the line between criminal and constitutional has to be done on a case-by-case basis, but using the full force of the federal government to do so is troubling in this context.

Beyond troubling, it’s chilling.

You may not like the Dobbs decision overturning Roe, and that is your right. You can vote for legislators who support abortion, and you can write op-eds about reproductive rights using the same tone and reverence that I give to actual sacraments.

You can still, in fact, get an abortion.

What you cannot do is demonize people of faith under the guise of enforcing the law. What you cannot do is conflate a legitimate ethical opposition to what many of us see as “permissible barbarism” and religious zealotry.

What you cannot do is use the federal government to nationalize your poorly-hidden hostility to certain political theories. That is fascism, in its purest form.

The other night, I was scrolling through the channels, and came upon a movie called “Guilty of Treason.” It was the story of Cardinal Jozef Mindszenty, a Hungarian prelate who criticized both the Nazis and the Communists in the middle of the last century.

I only know about him because my mother told me her class at Our Lady of Angels used to pray for his safety back in the 1950s. As a result of his outspoken religious activism, he was arrested, convicted at a show trial and tortured.

He escaped, and then spent 15 years as, essentially, a prisoner at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, eventually dying in exile in 1975.

Mindszenty is unknown to most people under the age of 60. But I felt as if he was whispering in my ear in 2022, reminding me, as someone once said, that the past isn’t dead. It isn’t even the past.

I will remember that the next time I walk into an immigration hearing with a client who seeks religious protection from our own government, after being persecuted by another.

Copyright 2022 Christine Flowers, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at [email protected].

Christine Flowers is a Philadelphian who loves the Eagles but can leave the cheesesteaks. She writes about anything that will likely annoy the majority of people, and in her spare time practices immigration law (which is bound to annoy at least some people.)