NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The trial for six pro-lifers targeted by the Biden administration for peacefully protesting a Tennessee abortion facility back in 2021 began in federal court in Nashville on Wednesday.
The pro-life activists are accused of violating the FACE Act and civil rights conspiracy for a protest that took place in a hallway outside of a Mount Juliet abortion provider on March 5, 2021. On that day, a group of demonstrators gathered on the second floor of an office building in the hallway outside the Carafem Health Center Clinic. The group prayed, sang hymns, and urged women showing up to the clinic to not get abortions.
Several of the protesters were arrested for trespassing at the time after local police arrived and dispersed the crowd. In October 2022, 11 of the pro-lifers were indicted by a federal grand jury after the Justice Department pursued charges against them arguing that there was conspiracy by the group to stop the women from accessing so-called “reproductive health care” and violating federal law ensuring access to abortion facilities. If convicted, the pro-lifers could face up to 11 years in prison and $250,000 worth of fines.
After jury selection was completed on Wednesday, the trial of Chet Gallagher of Tennessee, Coleman Boyd of Mississippi, Heather Idoni of Michigan, Cal Zastrow of Michigan, Paul Vaughn of Tennessee, and Dennis Green of Virginia began. The jury, including alternates, was composed of 11 women and 5 men. Trial dates for the other 4 defendants have not yet been set. One of those charged, Caroline Davis, has pled guilty and is expected to be called by the federal government to witness on Thursday.
As the trial began, roughly 40 people sat in the gallery, including family of those on trial and multiple people who brought Bibles along.
During the opening statement, the federal government accused the pro-lifers of plotting to “block doors to a health care clinic” and saying that the demonstrators planned on being arrested. The DOJ also said that the demonstration was not a protest, but a violation of federal law.
Each of the lawyers for the defendants then had an opportunity to give an opening statement. Jodie Bell, Gallagher’s lawyer, said that the pro-lifers were peaceful and were only trying to convince pregnant women not to abort their unborn children. The other lawyers also said that their clients never injured, threatened, or assaulted anyone during the protest.
Steve Crampton, with the Thomas More Society, said that his client, Vaughn, was an innocent man, and the protest was a “nonviolent, peaceful exercise.”
After the opening statements, the government called on Mount Juliet police officer Lance Scheider to testify. During his testimony, Schneider, who has been a police officer for 24 years, said that police were called to the scene because business was being disrupted. He said that the protesters were “not being violent” and were offering no physical resistance. While he was guiding one woman into the facility, several people did stand in his way and he said he was able to gently move them to the side.
Schneider, who said he arrested four juveniles that day, noted that the Mount Juliet Police did not make any arrests for assault or fear of assault. After the court was adjourned for the day, several of the pro-lifers on trial and their supporters gathered outside the courthouse to sing the Christian hymn “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.”
Gabriel Olivier, one of those in attendance at the trial, told The Daily Wire that he believed that the trial was a serious turning point in pro-life history and that he hoped more attention was brought to the case.
Pro-lifers targeted by Biden administration sing hymns outside of federal courthouse in Nashville after first day of FACE Act Trual pic.twitter.com/vTDs5miFWZ
— Leif Le Mahieu (@leif_lemahieu) January 24, 2024
Vaughn has previously spoken about how the FBI raided his home with guns out in front of his wife and 11 children. He told the Daily Signal that federal agents came to his home “guns pointed at the door, banging on the house, yelling and screaming.”
“I had kids in the yard walking out to get in the car to go to school, I was about to take them to school, and other kids in the house,” he said. “So seeing that the easiest path to de-escalation was me in handcuffs, I stepped outside and put an end to the ranting and the banging and the yelling.”
The trial is taking place in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee at the Fred D. Thompson courthouse. Overseeing the case is Judge Aleta Trauger, appointed to the court in 1998 by then-President Bill Clinton.