Americans Face Decades in Prison for Convincing Women Not to Have Abortions

 

I had to get this article for you from behind a pay-wall.  We in America live under a criminal government that must be removed.  But who will do it?  Do we have to wait for civil war and the terrible bloodshed that will produce?  Must the cure be our destruction?  Perhaps that is what God demands – the annihilation of the United States for her grotesque permissiveness of unspeakable sins and wicked injustice.

www.theepochtimes.com /article/from-the-sidewalk-to-prison-the-story-of-pro-life-activists-outside-abortion-clinics-5580835

Americans Face Decades in Prison for Convincing Women Not to Have Abortions

Beth Brelje16-20 minutes 2/29/2024


LEITCHFIELD, Ky.—Heather Idoni picked up a phone receiver and punched in her inmate number on a keypad to activate it through the visitation window at Grayson County Detention Center.

She had 15 minutes to talk before the sound was cut off without warning and her guests were told to leave.

In prison, every move an inmate makes is controlled. Ms. Idoni, 59, is getting used to that. She must, because she is facing more than 41 years in prison—the rest of her natural life.

Her sentence is expected to be the longest in the United States for someone charged with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, a 1994 law that prohibits interfering with anyone obtaining or providing “reproductive health services.” It was seldom used until the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization reversed Roe v. Wade in June 2022, which returned abortion regulation to the states.

Her crime: sitting near or in front of the doors of abortion clinics to give sidewalk counselors a few moments to talk to women before their abortion appointments and potentially change their minds. Nine women out of 10 give them the middle finger and keep walking, Ms. Idoni said. But some women do change their minds, and sidewalk counselors say the life of every baby saved is worth the risk.

But a decade or more in prison is an outcome Ms. Idoni and other abortion rescuers didn’t expect. In post-Roe America, pro-lifers have been served harsh, life-altering penalties.

“I have young, young grandchildren,” Ms. Idoni told The Epoch Times. “They are not going to have any memory of me. It’s hard to think about. It is the most painful thing, being separated from my young grandchildren who are growing so fast, and I’m missing their lives.”

Before prison, Ms. Idoni owned a bookstore in Linden, Michigan. She is a mother of 16, including 10 orphaned boys she adopted from Ukraine.

In 2022, at least 26 pro-life activists were charged under the FACE Act, and many are now in prison or awaiting sentencing. Most were charged after June 2022, when President Joe Biden formed the Reproductive Rights Task Force, a Department of Justice-led group focused, in part, on enforcing the act. The DOJ did not respond to a request for comment.

Political watchers predict the emotional issue of abortion will be a top 2024 election topic in most races.

Civil Disobedience

Ms. Idoni was convicted in 2023, along with four other defendants in Washington, of a FACE Act offense and of felony conspiracy against rights.The group blocked the entrance to a late-term abortion business in 2020. The DOJ said the group entered the facility and blocked access using their bodies, furniture, chains, and ropes, then live-streamed their activity on social media. The DOJ considered live-streaming a felony conspiracy, which carries a 10-year penalty. The FACE violation adds another year. Sentencing is in May.

But after her trial in Washington, Ms. Idoni and five others were convicted for praying and singing hymns in the hallway of a now-closed abortion business in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. This will be considered a prior conviction and could add years to the sentence out of Washington. She awaits another trial for two FACE violations in Michigan.

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Heather Idoni (2nd R) and other pro-life activists sit in front of an abortion facility door in Sterling Heights, Mich,, on Aug. 27, 2020. (Courtesy of Cal Zastrow)

“The Tennessee case highlights how absurd the situation has become, using FACE in that weaponized fashion against the pro-lifers who obviously are political opponents of this administration,” Stephen Crampton, senior counsel for the Thomas More Society, told The Epoch Times. “To throw in that 10-year federal conspiracy charge in a case that, if you’re just looking at it cold, is indistinguishable from a civil rights sit-in.”

 

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Mr. Crampton is an attorney in the Tennessee case, which was tried in Nashville, where in 1960, black citizens engaged in civil disobedience by sitting at lunch counters to protest racial segregation.

“There is a Civil Rights Museum in the middle of the public library right across the street from the courthouse—a big display, honoring as heroes those folks that engaged in sit-ins in Nashville and helped change the whole culture of the nation,” Mr. Crampton said.

“In the same breath, they make our [clients] martyrs because they engaged in a sit-in, not for advancing racial equality but for trying to save the life of an unborn child. … If that’s not political, I don’t know how else to describe it.”

The abortion business affiliated with the Tennessee FACE charges was closed before the DOJ served any indictments because abortion is no longer legal in Tennessee.

No matter how one feels about abortion, Americans should care about what happens with the FACE Act, Mr. Crampton said.

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A group of African Americans seated at lunch counter during a sit-in Nashville, Tenn., in 1960. (Library of Congress)

“The fact that the government has picked … which causes to federalize and to maximize prison sentences for—today, it’s pro-lifers, but tomorrow, hey, maybe it’s Greenpeace, right? Maybe it’s the PETA folks with animal rights, and all of a sudden you’re facing 11 years in prison because they don’t like your cause,” Mr. Crampton said.

“Is this really something that we want our federal government doing?”

Repealing FACE

The FACE Act has been used 130 times against pro-life individuals, but it has only been used three times against pro-abortion protesters, a U.S. Senate aide told The Epoch Times on background.

“There’s certainly a disparity in how this is being enforced,” the aide said. “In the wake of the Dobbs decision being leaked, there are at least 108 Catholic churches and at least 78 pregnancy-resource centers that were attacked by pro-abortion protesters.

“But there were only three FACE Act cases opened in response to that. So it’s very clear, just on the numbers alone, that this is being enforced in a very political way, and that the DOJ is weaponizing it against pro-life individuals and ignoring it when it comes to pro-abortion individuals.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who is sponsoring legislation that would repeal the FACE Act, pointed to the fact that legal scholars have long questioned the act’s constitutionality. He said the Biden administration has recently used it as a tool to harass and prosecute pro-life activists. His House bill is called the Restoring the First Amendment and Right to Peaceful Civil Disobedience Act.

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Pro-abortion extremist group Jane’s Revenge leaves threats at Harbor Church in Olympia, Wash., on May 22, 2022 (Courtesy of Harbor Church)

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) has a companion bill in the House.

While there was interest when the Senate bill was introduced in October 2023, it has not had much momentum since then. The aide isn’t optimistic about the measure passing in the Senate.

“Without a Republican majority, there is just no way that that’s going to get through,” which means those imprisoned under the FACE Act may face long sentences, the aide said.

“They are suffering from the political fallout of this law that really shouldn’t exist in the first place, and that has absolutely been weaponized against one group and not another.”

FBI Raid

Mark Houck, a father of seven, was shocked the morning of Sept. 23, 2022, when a team of roughly 25 FBI agents pounded on his door, pointed guns at him and arrested him for an alleged FACE Act violation.

Mr. Houck was a long-time sidewalk counselor at a Philadelphia abortion business. He pushed a volunteer at that business after the man made vulgar comments to Mr. Houck’s son and wouldn’t stop. Although local police refused to bring charges in the case, the DOJ said the shove was a FACE violation. A jury disagreed and found Mr. Houck not guilty. For months before the verdict, however, he faced a potential prison term. Now he is running for a U.S. congressional seat in Pennsylvania.

“We would not be running if that had not happened to me,” Mr. Houck told The Epoch Times. “That wasn’t my personal aspiration. But after the raid, and the government coming after me, and the government being weaponized against me, we decided that we want to run so that this doesn’t happen to anybody else.”

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Mark Houck with his son Mark Jr., in the backyard of their home in Kintnersville, Pa., on March 17, 2023. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

It is the first time in 248 years, since the Declaration of Independence was signed, that the government has been weaponized against its own people in this way, he said, making this an unprecedented time to be living in the United States.

“It’s really sad that our DOJ, which was not established for those purposes, has now become this tool and this weapon in the hands of President Joe Biden and anybody that’s an enemy of his. Whether you’re a pro-lifer or pro-Donald Trump, you are now a threat to that regime and the DOJ,” Mr. Houck said.

“[The Biden Administration] is coming after people of faith and people who love this nation, with the full force of the government. It is very sad and yet unprecedented. We’ve got to do something about it. We’ve got to hold the government accountable.”

Spiritual War

The FACE Act became law in 1994 under Democratic President Bill Clinton. The pro-life community lobbied against it.

Paul Vaughn, a long-time pro-life advocate, still had a pamphlet from 1993 that predicted that “Christians are about to be put in federal prisons.” On its flip side, the pamphlet reads, “These are not the kinds of laws passed in a free country that treasures the right to vigorous dissent.”

Many street counselors (who stay mostly on sidewalks) and rescuers (who sometimes block doors) are Christians who see numerous references in the Bible as defining life as sacred. Their faith motivates them to stand in uncomfortable places and have hard conversations with women moments before those women may have an abortion.

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Paul Vaughn in the backyard of his home in Centerville, Tenn., on Feb. 20, 2024. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

Many pro-life activists have told The Epoch Times that they don’t expect following their faith to always be easy. Prison is not easy, and for Ms. Idoni and others, waiting for trials has not been easy.

Mr. Vaughn, 55, is a Centerville, Tennessee, father of 11. He was convicted in the Tennessee case along with Ms. Idoni and is awaiting sentencing. As in Mr. Houck’s experience, an FBI squad arrived early one morning at Mr. Vaughn’s home, sporting long guns and tactical gear. Agents handcuffed him in front of his terrified children, who were getting ready for school, put him in a vehicle, and drove away with him.

“Persecution is not just a guilty verdict at that moment in time in the courts,” Mr. Vaughn told The Epoch Times. “It is the whole year and a half prior to that, of reporting to the parole office every month. Of them invading your privacy, talking about how much money you make, … have you had any speeding tickets, if you talked to any police officers—all those invasive tactics in your life.”

Since the FBI raid, dinner conversation with the family is different. Whereas normally they would open the Bible and talk about God, now they are asking questions like “Is daddy going to jail? Do we need to put up a new fence? Do we need to buy a guard dog? Do we need to look into counselors for the children? How are they doing? What is PTSD? What are the signs of it?”

Now, when someone knocks on the door, everyone tenses, reminded of that morning.

If sentenced to 11 years in prison, Mr. Vaughn will miss much of his children’s formative years.

“God knows the story He wants to tell, and what He wants to do, so we’re just trying to be faithful to that,” Mr. Vaughn said. “It was very surreal to hear … guilty … come out of the judge’s mouth.”

Calvin Zastrow, a sidewalk preacher from Michigan, was also found guilty in Tennessee, and he faces another trial in Michigan. He awaits sentencing.

The process of waiting for trial is part of the punishment, Mr. Zastrow told The Epoch Times.

Trish and Calvin Zastrow, along with supporters, pray before entering court in Grand Rapids, Mich., on May 11, 2023. (Courtesy of Cal Zastrow)
Trish and Calvin Zastrow, along with supporters, pray before entering court in Grand Rapids, Mich., on May 11, 2023. (Courtesy of Cal Zastrow)

“You can’t hang on to the temporal things. You have to keep looking forward, and you have to trust God. And any plans you make, you realize those may change,” Mr. Zastrow said.

“I was able to be at my daughter’s wedding at the end of September. That was a tremendous joy, a tremendous blessing. But you don’t know from day to day if they’re going to come grab you. You don’t know what’s going to happen, so you just keep trusting the Lord and moving forward.

“This is not just a culture war, but a spiritual war.”

It is also a physical battle to stay healthy while in the government’s custody.

Ms. Idoni is reluctant to talk about the discomforts of prison, but did say it’s hard to manage one’s health when serving time. The food is highly processed, and inmates are very inactive. Whenever she’s transported, guards put her in uncomfortable handcuffs and lock a box between her wrists so that her hands don’t touch. This leaves welts on her wrists.

Mugshot of Heather Idoni at Grayson County Detention Center in Leitchfield, Ky., on Jan. 5, 2024. (GCDC)
Mugshot of Heather Idoni at Grayson County Detention Center in Leitchfield, Ky., on Jan. 5, 2024. (GCDC)

“It is an injustice that I am in here, and everyone who gets to know me and hears my story, they are all appalled,“ she said. ”The other prisoners, inmates, guards, they all say, ‘You don’t belong here.’”

But Ms. Idoni said she has prayed for the women she has met while waiting more than 18 months for her trial, and she finds the relationships meaningful.

“I do see God’s purpose in me being in here. However, there are some really hard things that I’ve had to get through. And I take them as training from the Lord,” she said. “I really have felt the Lord’s care for me every day. I find, as I let him make me content in every situation, it is a lot easier. In fact, there’s a lot of joy within it.”

She lives in a cell with 11 other women and has started a Bible study. Some are hungry to study. Those who don’t join them at the table listen quietly from their bunks.

Also awaiting sentencing in the Tennessee case is Coleman Boyd, 52, of Bolton, Mississippi, father of 13, including an adopted 6-month-old infant. As a result of the conviction, he lost his job as an emergency-room doctor.

Chester Gallagher was also convicted. He is a former Las Vegas police officer who was arrested and fired in 1989 at a pro-life sit-in after telling superiors he could not walk away from what he was convinced was a murder in progress. Dennis Green of Virginia, a pastor at Life and Liberty Ministries, is also awaiting his sentence.

Four other defendants in the Tennessee case await a hearing on lesser charges. There are other FACE Act cases underway around the country.

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Coleman Boyd and 9 of his 13 children stand outside their home in Bolton, Miss., on Feb. 21, 2024. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

Lives Saved

Street counselors and rescuers continue their increasingly risky activities because they work. Babies’ lives are saved, and women find alternatives.

One woman testifying against the Nashville defendants said that she was turned away by their activities that day. The jury never heard the rest of the story: She went on to have her baby and marry the baby’s father.

“I love you … so much. You complete me and keep me going. I never knew my heart could be so big,” she wrote of the child in a social-media post.

Mr. Houck said he has seen at least 100 women choose, at the last minute, not to abort their children.

He recalls a couple who went to Philadelphia Planned Parenthood on Mr. Biden’s Inauguration Day. They were about to enter when Mr. Houck told them they didn’t have to go in there that day. They later told him they had asked God to give them a sign if he didn’t want them to get the abortion, and they considered his comment that sign.

“I said, ‘Hey, let’s go get a cup of coffee, I’ll get you guys a chocolate croissant.’ We sat down and I said, ‘Hey, you guys can do this. We can help you. Let’s go over to the pregnancy resource center.’ We took them there. They got an appointment; they came back out. I said, ‘Let’s keep in touch.’”

Their baby was born in July, and Mr. Houck has stayed in touch with them.

He comforted a woman who had an abortion and came out of the building crying and regretful. They named her baby to help her begin grieving.

“We know it’s the eleventh hour. We know that 95 percent of the women that we talk to are going to still go in … and are likely not going to respond to our invitations to spare the life of their child,” Mr. Houck said.

But when women do respond, even if that happens less than 5 percent of the time, “not only does it keep you coming back for more, but you save a soul. It’s a human soul. This is life-giving.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Paul Vaughn published a 1993 pamphlet. The Epoch Times regrets the error.

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