The defendants—Handy, Heather Idoni, William Goodman, John Hinshaw and Herb Geraghty—were found guilty of two felony counts each for conspiracy against rights and violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, a federal law passed in the walk of anti-abortion violence. The jury deliberated for a day and a half before issuing its verdict, per WUSA9. They face up to 11 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $350,000 at sentencing. A second group of defendants faces trial next month.
Prosecutors described Handy as the organizer of the plot to block patients from entering the clinic on October 22, 2020, when she made an abortion appointment under the fake name “Hazel Jenkins.” The day of the blockade, an employee opened the door, and Handy and eight others forced their way in, knocking over a nurse in the process. According to the indictment and trial brief, five of them moved waiting room chairs to block access to the treatment area, then sat in the chairs and tied themselves together using chains and bike locks placed around their necks. Two others guarded the employee entrance and blocked a patient from entering that way, though one patient was able to get in by climbing through a window. Police had to use power tools to remove the locks and chains from some of the defendants and had to carry them out of the building.
The trial was an absolute spectacle, which was probably the point. Before it even began, Handy’s lawyers tried to get the judge to allow her to submit as evidence photos of five fetuses she claims to have taken from a medical waste truck outside the same clinic more than one year later. (Handy notoriously kept said fetal remains in her refrigerator. An anti-abortion group Handy works for said it called in the police tip about the fetuses the day after the Department of Justice announced the FACE Act charges.) The judge said no to allowing the fetus photos and barred any so-called “vigilante” defenses.
The judge also had to warn the defendants about both jury and witness tampering. On the first day of jury selection, supporters of the defendants stood outside courthouse doors where prospective jurors often enter and passed out fliers falsely claiming the abortion clinic they invaded had engaged in wrongdoing. At one point, a woman dressed as a nun repeatedly made the sign of the cross at a government witness as she testified, then followed her into the hallway during a break to recite Hail Marys at her.
In his wild closing arguments, Handy’s lawyer Martin Cannon, senior counsel with the Thomas More Society, walked right up to the line of the vigilante defense the judge had barred. “In Lauren’s mind, any person who she can convince not to go into that clinic is a person whose baby is not going to be born alive and left to die,” he said. Cannon also argued the group was doing “conventional sit-in kind of stuff—just like Martin Luther King has a federal holiday for—that doesn’t necessarily break FACE.”
This is good news today, but you can absolutely bet that the defendants will be appealing this case all the way up to the Supreme Court. Anti-abortion activists want to overturn the FACE Act, along with other precedents that provide the bare minimum amount of protection for abortion seekers traveling to clinics in states where the procedure is still legal. The anti-abortion Becket Fund has already asked the Supreme Court to hear a case that could declare “buffer zones” outside abortion clinics unconstitutional. I really don’t want to find out what Sam Alito thinks of these precedents.