Politics

Three More Pro-Life Activists Sentenced for TN Abortion Clinic Protest

Three more pro-life activists were sentenced on Wednesday for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act during a 2021 abortion clinic protest in Tennessee.

Pro-life father of 11 Paul Vaughn was the first sentenced on Tuesday to three years of supervised release. Subsequently, activist Dennis Green also received three years supervised release, Coleman Boyd was given five years of probation, and Calvin Zastrow, considered one of the main organizers, was given a six-month prison sentenced following by three years of supervised release, Associated Press reported. Boyd, the only one of the four activists whom U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger said could afford it, was ordered to pay a fine of $10,000.

The activists were facing a potential maximum sentence of 11 years behind bars — a sentence which activists’ attorneys argued was too harsh for a peaceful protest. The sentences were ultimately below those requested by prosecutors, with Trauger saying she “took into account the good works of the defendants in their communities,” according to AP. 

Trauger reportedly recognized that the activists based their actions on their religious beliefs, but accused them of using their faith to “give themselves permission to ignore the pain they caused other people and ignore their own humanity.” 

Even so, “[a]round 200 supporters, including many parents with children, rallied and prayed outside the federal courthouse in Nashville before the sentencing hearings Tuesday and Wednesday,” AP reported. “They also packed a courtroom where the proceedings were relayed over a livestream, filling the benches and spilling onto the floor and into the hallway.”

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.

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, Zastrow, Boyd, and Green, 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 found guilty are Chester Gallagher, 73, and Heather Idoni, 59.

Trauger postponed sentencing for Idoni and Gallagher, who were preparing for a trial in Michigan in August on similar charges, AP reported. Idoni is currently serving a two-year sentence for her participation in a 2020 abortion clinic protest in Washington, D.C.

Four other activists were found guilty in April of violating the FACE Act, including 87-year-old Eva Edl — a survivor of a Communist concentration camp — Eva Zastro, 24,  James Zastro, 25, and Paul Place, 24. They face up to 1 year in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. They were scheduled for sentencing on July 30. 

Another activist, 24-year-old Caroline Davis, already took a plea deal in 2023 and agreed to testify for the government. 

RELATED STORY — Explainer: DOJ Uses KKK-Era Charge to Extend Prison Time for Pro-Life Activists

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.

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. 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.

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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