Politics

Pro-Life Father of 11 Avoids Prison Time for Tennessee Abortion Clinic Protest

A Christian father of 11 was sentenced to three years of supervised release on Tuesday for a peaceful protest at a Tennessee abortion clinic in 2021 — avoiding prison time and a maximum sentence of 11 years for Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act and conspiracy against rights charges brought by President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice (DOJ).

The Biden administration had sought to put pro-life activist Paul Vaughn in prison for one year, a request which U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger denied in favor of supervised release, the Daily Wire reported. Vaughn’s attorneys with the pro-life Thomas More Society said in a press release following sentencing that they are preparing an appeal, which would seek to overturn his conviction and challenge the constitutionality of the FACE Act.

“We are pleased the judge has shown leniency to Paul at today’s sentencing hearing, and I know Paul is incredibly thankful to be able to celebrate Independence Day with his family. But it remains the case that his conviction is a deep injustice,” said Steve Crampton, Thomas More Society senior counsel and attorney for Paul Vaughn.

He added: 

The Declaration of Independence, formally adopted on this day 248 years ago, famously states: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ On the anniversary of our nation’s charter declaring such rights ‘inalienable,’ Paul Vaughn and his co-defendants stand convicted of defending the inalienable right to life. The weaponized and evidence-free charges brought here by the Biden Department of Justice against peaceful pro-lifers should have never been filed.

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President Joe Biden’s pro-abortion administration announced in October 2022 that it had charged 11 activists involved in the March 5, 2021, “blockade” of the Carafem Health Center Clinic in Mount Juliet. Attorneys for the activists said they were conducting a “rescue” and had gathered on the second floor of the office building where the clinic is located to pray, sing hymns, and urge women not to go through with abortions. The peaceful protest was also live-streamed on Facebook, according to the Catholic News Agency (CNA).

Abortion has since been outlawed in Tennessee with limited exceptions, and the clinic has paused in-person care, according to its website.

Six of the activists, including Vaughn, were found guilty in January of a misdemeanor FACE Act charge, as well as a felony conspiracy against rights charge, which carried with it the possibility of up to 11 years in prison and fines up to $250,000. The other activists are Chester Gallagher, 73, of Lebanon, Tennessee; Heather Idoni, 58, of Michigan; Calvin Zastrow, 57, of Michigan; Coleman Boyd, 51, of Bolton, Mississippi; and Dennis Green, 56, of Cumberland, Virginia. 

Four other activists were found guilty in April of violating the FACE Act, including 87-year-old Eva Edl of Aiken, South Carolina — a survivor of a Communist concentration camp — Eva Zastro, 24, of Dover, Arkansas; James Zastro, 25, of Eldon, Missouri; and Paul Place, 24, of Centerville, Tennessee. They face up to 1 year in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. Another activist, 24-year-old Caroline Davis of Michigan, already took a plea deal in 2023 and agreed to testify for the government. 

Several co-defendants of Vaughn, including Cal Zastrow, Dennis Greene, and Coleman Boyd, are scheduled for sentencing on Wednesday, according to The Daily Wire.

Vaughn said in a statement following his sentencing, “We rejoice in God’s plans.”

“Because this is at the heart a spiritual battle, we are thankful to have a strong advocate in the Thomas More Society. Not only are they experts at law, but they deeply understand the spiritual battle raging across our land. We will appeal to have this unlawful use of the law overturned,” he said. 

“We must stand and fight for what is right, we cannot bow down to the lie. Laws have to be grounded in truth, they have to align with the ultimate law giver, who is Christ our Lord,” he continued. “The false narratives plaguing our nation will fall when we stand up to them. That is what this case is about and I’m ever thankful to have a legal team who understands that truth and who is willing to fight for it all the way to the supreme court if necessary.”

According to an October 7, 2022, Townhall report, Vaughn was never arrested at the protest. Instead, he “worked to mediate” between the activists and police to “ensure everyone’s safety,” according to the report. Even so, armed FBI agents arrested him at his home in front of his wife and children early in the morning on October 5, 2022.

Vaughn alleged to the outlet that his family did not receive word of his whereabouts until six hours after the arrest and that he was “held in a federal holding facility, brought before a judge, charged, and then released without a wallet or a cell phone 60 miles from his Hickman County home,” according to the report.

“The event for which the Biden Department of Justice targeted Paul and his fellow pro-lifers was a peaceful demonstration by entirely peaceable citizens — filled with prayer, hymn-singing, and worship — and oriented toward persuading expecting mothers not to abort their babies,” Crampton said. “For his witness to life, the FBI raided Paul’s home at gunpoint in front of his wife and children, then brought down the full weight of United States government to prosecute Paul. We will continue to advocate tirelessly for pro-lifers like Paul, to make sure that the FACE Act is never again weaponized by the Department of Justice against its ideological opponents.”

The incident is reminiscent of the arrest of pro-life activist and Catholic father of seven Mark Houck, whom the DOJ also threatened with 11 years of prison time. The DOJ decided to press charges against Houck, who pushed a Planned Parenthood escort twice on October 13, 2021 — even though local authorities declined to press charges. Houck said he pushed the escort, 73-year-old Bruce Love, because he was verbally harassing his 12-year-old son as he was sidewalk counseling outside the abortion clinic.

Houck was also arrested by the FBI, allegedly at gunpoint, in front of his wife and children in the early hours of September 23, 2022. Houck was ultimately found not guilty in January 2023, with the judge raising the possibility that the case should never have been brought to trial.

Since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, the DOJ has notably charged more pro-life activists under the FACE Act than pro-abortion activists, despite the fact that FBI director Christopher Wray admitted in November of 2022 that approximately 70 percent of abortion-related threats of violence in the United States since the Dobbs decision have been against pro-life groups.

In response to the Biden’s administration’s aggressive prosecution of pro-life activists, Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) introduced legislation in September of 2023 to repeal the FACE Act, which “prohibits threats of force, obstruction and property damage intended to interfere with reproductive health care services.” Roy said that while the law was designed to protect abortion facilities, it has instead been weaponized by President Joe Biden’s DOJ to target pro-life activists.

Former President Donald Trump also pledged last year, and again this year, to create a task force, to review and potentially pardon or commute the sentences of every “political prisoner who’s been unjustly persecuted by the Biden administration” if he is elected. 

Katherine Hamilton is a political reporter for Breitbart News. You can follow her on X @thekat_hamilton.



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