The attorney for one of the 11 pro-life activists arrested last week by armed FBI agents accused the Justice Department on Tuesday of seeking to “frighten and intimidate Christians” with its recent campaign targeting anti-abortion protesters.
Paul Vaughn, 55, was arrested Oct. 5 at his farmhouse in Centerville, Tennessee, and charged with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances [FACE] Act stemming from a March 2021 pro-life demonstration outside an abortion facility in Mount Juliet, Tennessee.
Stephen Crampton, Thomas More Society senior counsel, called the arrest of Mr. Vaughn in front of his wife and seven of his 11 children “yet another attempt on the part of the Biden Department of Justice to frighten and intimidate Christians and committed pro-life advocates.”
“We believe the evidence will show that Paul did not violate the FACE Act, and we look forward to a chance to prove that in court,” Mr. Crampton said in a Tuesday statement.
The federal indictment against the 11 activists came with the Biden administration invoking the access law to ensure abortion availability in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson. Mr. Biden sharply criticized the court’s 6-3 decision and vowed to employ his administration’s assets to protect abortion access.
Last month, the Justice Department charged Mark Houck of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and Christopher Moscinski of the New York-based Franciscan Friars of the Renewal with FACE Act violations over incidents at abortion facilities.
“This office will enforce federal law to protect clinics and staff that provide reproductive health services while safeguarding the rights of their patients,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said in the Sept. 29 announcement of the charges against Mr. Moscinski.
But Mr. Vaughn compared the federal crackdown to the martyrdom of Christians in past centuries.
“As a Christian family, we do a lot of studying about historic Christianity and missionaries in the past and persecution that has happened in the church, so [my children] are familiar with stories,” he said Monday on Fox’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” “They know there are people who have been martyred through history. They know they’ve been persecuted and picked on by bully-tyrants in other parts of history, just as they are being in America today.”
The federal indictment stemmed from a protest in the hallway outside of the Carafem Health Center Clinic in which Mr. Vaughn and the others sat and sang hymns, read scripture and prayed, according to the Thomas More Society.
“During the occasion, Vaughn, who was never arrested by the local police, was recording the protest and serving as a liaison between life advocates and the police to ensure the safety of all involved,” said the society in a press release. “No one was hurt, and no property was damaged during the pro-life witness.”
Mr. Vaughn and six others were also charged with conspiracy for organizing the protest on social media, which the department referred to as a “blockade event” that prevented a patient and an employee from entering the clinic.
In addition to Mr. Vaughn, those arrested were Chester Gallagher, Heather Idoni, Calvin Zastrow, Coleman Boyd, Caroline Davis, Dennis Green, Eva Edl, Eva Zastrow, James Zastrow and Paul Place.
Dueling versions of events
The Justice Department said in an Oct. 5 statement that the video showed “members of the group attempting to engage a patient and her companion as Boyd told his livestream audience that the patient was a ‘mom coming to kill her baby.’”
“The indictment further alleges that on March 5, 2021, the 11 individuals … used force and physical obstruction to injure, intimidate and interfere with employees of the clinic and a patient who was seeking reproductive health services,” said the release.
Mr. Vaughn denied using force or violence, speculating that the Justice Department “needed some kind of justification in their own minds to go after peaceful people that disagree with them politically.”
In a video clip of the arrest, a woman identified as Mr. Vaughn’s wife can be heard telling armed FBI agents, “I want to know why you’re banging on my door with a gun.”
The seven defendants charged with conspiracy each face up to a maximum of 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release and fines of up to $350,000, while the remaining defendants could spend a year in prison, one year of supervised release, and fines of up to $10,000 each.
“Ironically, the FACE Act was established to federalize and criminalize any interference with a person’s attempts to obtain an abortion,” said Mr. Crampton. “Abortion is no longer legal in Tennessee, and the peaceful pro-life witness at the Mount Juliet abortion facility resulted in no injury, destruction or damage, yet 11 life advocates are facing draconian penalties and federal prosecution.”
Tennessee this summer approved a heartbeat law, which prohibits most abortions, according to the state’s attorney general’s office.
Mr. Houck, 48, was charged with allegedly shoving a Planned Parenthood volunteer whom he said confronted his 12-year-old son and refused to back off during an October 2021 dispute in Philadelphia. He has pleaded not guilty.
Mr. Moscinski, 52, who is serving a three-month jail sentence for trespassing at an abortion clinic in White Plains, New York, faces charges over allegedly padlocking the gates of a Planned Parenthood facility in Hempstead, New York, and then pouring glue into the locks.