A group of pro-life activists is facing up to 11 years in prison for blocking access to what they consider to be a controversial late-term abortion clinic in Washington, D.C. 

Jonathan Darnel, 41, of Arlington, Virginia; Jean Marshall, 73, of Kingston, Massachusetts; and Joan Bell, 74, of Montague, New Jersey were each convicted by a federal jury after being charged with a federal civil rights conspiracy offense, and for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, according to a Department of Justice (DOJ) press release. 

Back in October of 2020, the group stopped people from entering the clinic, and created a barricade in the waiting room, chaining themselves together in order to prevent access to abortion procedure rooms. 

Marshall and Bell traveled to the Washington, D.C. area to meet with Darnel and participate in the blockade of the clinic that was organized by another pro-life leader. 

U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who presided over the trial, ordered the defendants immediately detained. 

Sentencing for the three will be scheduled at a later date. Each defendant faces a maximum penalty of 11 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $350,000. 

Five Others from Group Also Convicted on Same Counts, Appeal Filed

As CBN News reported last month, five additional activists were convicted on the same charges. Lauren Handy, 28, of Alexandria, Virginia; John Hinshaw, 67, of Levittown, New York; Heather Idoni, 61, of Linden, Michigan; William Goodman, 52, of the Bronx, New York; and Herb Geraghty, 25, of Pittsburgh, were also convicted of felony conspiracy against civil rights and for violating the FACE Act. 

All of the defendants are being held in federal prison. A sentencing date has not been scheduled.

The five pro-lifers named in this trial – plus another five pro-life activists – made plans for a sit-in protest at the facility. They sang, prayed out loud, locked arms in front of the facility’s staff entrance, and attached themselves to rope and chains to block doors in the building as a means to “delay the murder of kids.”

Handy, who was the lead defendant in this trial, made headlines last year after authorities recovered the fully formed bodies of five aborted babies that she had discovered. But rather than investigating the deaths of the late-term babies, authorities went after Handy instead. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sanjay Patel blamed Handy, who is an activist with the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), for the incident, according to WUSA9.

Another protester, Jay Smith, pleaded guilty to his involvement in the incident. He was sentenced to 10 months in prison.  Another co-defendant, Paulette Harlow, is awaiting trial on similar charges.

Prosecutors argued in all of the cases that the protesters violated the FACE Act that was passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994. The law bans violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.

On Sept. 5, attorneys with the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm defending life, family, and freedom filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to reverse the lower court ruling it had made denying Handy’s immediate release from jail. 

In the 27-page appeal, United States of America v. Lauren Handy, et al, the nonprofit law firm noted Judge Kollar-Kotelly, while citing the conviction of the five sit-in protesters as a “crime of violence,” ordered Handy and her four co-defendants to be immediately detained on Aug. 29, after a federal jury found them guilty of violating the FACE Act as well as a conspiracy against ‘rights’ that the U.S. Supreme Court has not found in the Constitution. 

In both the original motion and the appeal, Thomas More Society attorneys argue that under federal statute and binding precedents from the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court, the FACE Act is not categorically a “crime of violence,” and should not lead to pre-sentencing detention. 

The legal aid group points out the only basis for a finding of the use of force was when an overzealous clinic worker rushed at the pro-life advocates and tried to forcibly remove them from the clinic waiting room, resulting in her twisting an ankle. There was no allegation that Handy or the co-defendants intended to harm anyone, the law firm said. 

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