A Pennsylvania anti-abortion activist arrested at his home pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal charges stemming from an altercation at an abortion clinic, a case fueling Republican claims that the Biden administration is targeting its political foes.
Mark Houck, president of the Catholic nonprofit The King’s Men, entered the plea in Philadelphia federal court on two counts of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances [FACE] Act for allegedly pushing a volunteer patient escort last year outside a Planned Parenthood facility in Philadelphia.
Republicans and pro-life groups have decried the arrest, accusing the FBI of going overboard by descending on Mr. Houck at his home with his wife and seven children present, even though his attorneys say he previously offered to turn himself in voluntarily and that local authorities dropped the case.
Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, fired off a letter Monday to Attorney General Merrick Garland saying that if “the shocking reports about the FBI arresting a man Friday in rural Pennsylvania are true, then you have a lot to answer for.”
“Not only did your office turn a local dispute into a national case, but the FBI reportedly executed the search warrant in as extreme a manner as one can imagine,” said Mr. Hawley. “Reports state that the FBI sent as many as 20 to 25 agents to conduct the arrest. And the FBI allegedly arrested Houck at gunpoint early in the morning in front of his seven children.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, called the episode “a blatant partisan abuse of power,” while Rep. Paul Gosar, Arizona Republican, said the “FBI has abandoned professionalism and is out of control.”
“The FBI has turned into Biden’s secret police force. Sending a small army of heavily armed agents to raid Mark Houck’s home should frighten EVERY American. The FBI using fear & intimidation tactics to go after conservatives needs to END!!” tweeted Rep. Ronny Jackson, Texas Republican.
Ryan-Marie Houck, Mr. Houck’s wife, said that 20-25 agents banged on the door, entered the home with guns drawn, and arrested her husband shortly after dawn Friday, scaring their seven children, at their home in Kintnersville.
“The kids were all just screaming. It was all just very scary and traumatic,” Mrs. Houck told LifeSite News.
The FBI Philadelphia issued a statement Tuesday denying the use of excessive personnel and force.
“There are inaccurate claims being made regarding the arrest of Mark Houck,” said the statement. “No SWAT Team or SWAT operators were involved. FBI agents knocked on Mr. Houck‘s front door, identified themselves as FBI agents, and asked him to exit the residence. He did so and was taken into custody without incident pursuant to an indictment.”
Mr. Houck, 48, was accused of pushing a 72-year-old volunteer twice in October 2021 outside a Philadelphia abortion clinic, causing injuries that “required medical intention,” according to the indictment.
“Assault is always a serious offense, and under the FACE Act, if the victim is targeted because of their association with a reproductive healthcare clinic, it is a federal crime,” said U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero. “Our Office and the Department of Justice are committed to prosecuting crimes which threaten the safety and rights of all individuals.”
The Thomas More Society, which represents Mr. Houck, said that he shoved the man after he “repeatedly targeted Houck’s 12-year-old son with vulgar verbal attacks.”
“Mark asked him to stop. The gentleman continued to lean in, Mark stepped between him, the guy just continued to lean in, and Mark pushed him, pushed him away from his son,” Brian Middleton, a Houck family spokesperson, told podcast host John-Henry Westen in a Monday interview.
Mr. Middleton said local authorities declined to prosecute the case and a judge dropped a private complaint filed against Mr. Houck after the person who filed it failed to appear in court.
“Six days later, Mark received a target letter from the feds saying he was being targeted for this federal offense,” Mr. Middleton said. “They immediately let the [U.S. attorney] know that they were aware and that they were willing to come in at any point in time, and the next time anyone heard anything … was Friday morning at seven o’clock.”
Mr. Hawley told Mr. Garland that he should “testify, under oath, before the Senate Judiciary Committee about your selective use and apparent political weaponization of the FACE Act.”
The arrest came with the pro-life movement under siege in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
More than 70 pro-life pregnancy centers and 80 Catholic churches have been attacked since the draft opinion was leaked May 1, incidents that include smashed windows, broken statues, arson and spray-painted anti-church and pro-choice messages, according to the CatholicVote tracker.
An 83-year-old Michigan Right to Life volunteer is recovering at home after being shot in the shoulder Sept. 20 in Lake Odessa, Michigan, as she left a house following a “heated conversation” about Proposal 3, a November ballot measure that would enshrine abortion access in the state constitution.
The firearm allegedly used in the incident has been recovered and the immediate parties interviewed, but the investigation is ongoing and no warrant request has been submitted, according to Ionia County prosecuting attorney Kyle Butler.
“Pro-life Americans are increasingly under attack, and Joe Biden doesn’t care,” said Andrew Brennan, Republican National Committee director of faith communications.