The trial for pro-life activist and Catholic father of seven Mark Houck started Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Gerald J. Pappert in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The Department of Justice is targeting Houck, who leads a nonprofit group that provides sidewalk counseling at abortion clinics in Philadelphia, over an incident from 2021 involving his then-12-year-old son at a Planned Parenthood abortion facility. The family says Houck, who’s been charged with violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, was defending his son from a harassing pro-abortion activist. Houck is facing 11 years behind bars and $350,000 in fines if convicted.
“This is a political prosecution,” said one of Houck’s attorneys, Peter Breen, Thomas More Society vice president. Breen added his client is innocent and the Biden DOJ moved against Houck to “send a message” to pro-life Americans.
“And what’s clear from the Department of Justice at its highest levels, which is directing this case, [is] that they are trying to send a message to pro-life and people of faith: ‘Don’t mess with us,’” he said. “They want to intimidate — they want to cause good people like Mark to stop praying and counseling at the abortion clinics of our country. And that’s not going to happen.”
“What in the world would possess the Department of Justice to send 20 or so heavily armed agents to this family’s home, violate the sanctity of that home, frighten the children and then drag their father away instead of allowing us to present him peacefully, which we had offered to do?” Breen questioned.
The DOJ in a press release last year claimed Houck assaulted the abortion escort on two occasions on October 13, 2021, “because he was a volunteer reproductive health care clinic escort.”
“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,” U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero said in the release. “Our Office and the Department of Justice are committed to prosecuting crimes which threaten the safety and rights of all individuals.”
Lawyers for Mark Houck during pre-trial last week said they produced evidence proving that when Congress passed the FACE Act “it expressly intended to exclude so-called ‘escorts’ operating outside of abortion facilities from being encompassed by the FACE Act.”
“The FACE Act was never intended to cover disputes between advocates on the public sidewalks outside of our nation’s abortion clinics,” Breen said. “This new evidence shows clearly that Congress intended to limit the FACE Act to patients and staff working in the clinic, and not to take sides between pro-life and pro-choice counselors and escorts on the sidewalk. The Biden Department of Justice’s prosecution of Mark Houck is pure harassment, meant solely to intimidate our nation’s pro-life sidewalk counselors who provide vital resources to help pregnant women at risk for abortion.”