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US anti-abortion activist who kept fetuses convicted of blockading clinic

Lauren Handy, the anti-abortion activist who kept five fetuses in her Washington DC home, was on Tuesday found guilty of breaking federal law by blockading an abortion clinic.

The charges stem from an incident in October 2020, when Handy and nine other anti-abortion protesters invaded a Washington DC abortion clinic, according to an October 2022 indictment of the group. Handy used a fake name to book an appointment at the clinic, then blocked people from entering the waiting room while other defendants chained themselves together inside the clinic, prosecutors alleged. One of the clinic’s nurses sprained her ankle after she was pushed by a protester, according to the indictment.

Those actions, prosecutors argued, violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (Face), a 1990s-era federal law that makes it a crime to threaten or block someone seeking access to an abortion clinic, among other offenses . During the trial, one of the clinic’s patients testified that she had to climb through a window at the abortion clinic to get past the protesters.

“No one, not these defendants, not anyone else, has the right to impinge on anyone else’s rights,” assistant US attorney John Crabb told the jury, according to WUSA9, a Washington DC news outlet that has been covering the trial.

Over the last year, Handy has become something of a B-list celebrity within anti-abortion circles. After the discovery of the fetuses in Handy’s home, 23 Republican members of Congress sent a letter to the justice department, demanding information about the case. (No charges were ever filed.) Now, Handy is being represented in her Facecase by Martin Cannon, senior counsel for the prominent anti-abortion law firm the Thomas More Society.

During the trial, Cannon argued that Handy didn’t physically block anyone from entering the clinic and that her actions did not violate the Face Act.

“In order to be guilty of conspiracy, you can’t just plan an event. You have to have an agreement that involves breaking the law. How can we have a conspiracy to violate Face when most of the parties to the so-called agreement aren’t going to do it?” Cannon told the jurors in his closing argument, according to a transcript posted by the Thomas More Society. “They’re going to do conventional sit-in kind of stuff – just like Martin Luther King has a federal holiday for – that doesn’t necessarily break Face.”

Four of Handy’s co-defendants were put on trial alongside her. Like Handy, they were each found guilty of two felony counts of violating the Face Act and conspiracy against rights.

Abortion providers have long said that they would like to see the justice department pursue more Face Act prosecutions, especially since some forms of violence and harassment against clinics are now on the rise. In 2022, the number of arsons, burglaries and death threats and threats of harm directed against abortion clinics in the United States, Canada and Colombia all surged, according to a report by the National Abortion Federation. That same year, anti-abortion activists also led 20 “invasions” of clinics.

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