Closely Watched Case
A Tennessee jury has convicted six anti-abortion protesters of violating federal laws after they blocked the entrance of a reproductive clinic outside Nashville nearly three years ago. The decision, handed down late Tuesday after a weeklong trial, marks the latest development in a case that has been closely watched by conservative groups.
Accusations of Unfair Targeting
Conservative groups have accused the federal government of unfairly targeting abortion opponents by using the 1994 federal law designed to protect abortion clinics from obstruction and threats. Reproductive rights supporters argue that the law, known as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE Act), is critical in shielding abortion providers from violence, especially since the constitutional right to abortion has been revoked.
The 2021 “Blockade”
The case revolves around a 2021 blockade organized by anti-abortion supporters outside a reproductive health clinic in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. The event, promoted on social media, aimed to prevent the clinic from performing abortions. At the time, abortion was still legal in Tennessee. However, it is now banned at all stages of pregnancy under a law with narrow exemptions.
Convictions and Potential Penalties
Prosecutors say participants stationed themselves throughout the office building where the clinic was located and engaged in activities to dissuade women from obtaining an abortion. Videos from that day showed people blocking the clinic’s entrances and attempting to delay police intervention. Six of the participants were convicted and face up to 10 1/2 years in prison and fines of up to $260,000. Sentencing hearings will be held on July 2.
Appeals and Defense Statements
Attorneys representing the defendants plan to appeal the convictions. They have described the 2021 demonstration as a “peaceful life-affirming gathering” and criticized the federal justice department for targeting “pro-life activists”. Advocates argue that the increase in FACE Act violation cases reflects the rise in harassment and violence against abortion clinics. Abortion providers have reported an uptick in death threats, stalkings, burglaries, and arsons.
Controversy and Calls for Equitable Application
Conservative groups and Republican lawmakers argue that law enforcement has downplayed threats and violence against Catholic churches and “crisis pregnancy centers,” which counsel against abortions. Some have called for the 1994 federal law to be applied more equitably and investigate those who target crisis pregnancy centers. Additionally, some Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation to repeal the protections altogether.
Background on the FACE Act
The FACE Act was signed into law in 1994 by President Bill Clinton following a series of attacks against abortion clinics. Its purpose is to protect abortion clinics from obstruction and threats. The recent increase in enforcement reflects the ongoing debate over reproductive rights and the safety of abortion providers.