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Catholic activist gets 57 months in jail for abortion clinic blockade

The blockade involved the use of chains, bike locks, and furniture to prevent women from entering a Washington clinic
Anti-abortion activist Lauren Handy speaks at a news conference on the five fetuses found inside the home where she and other anti-abortion activists were living on Capitol Hill, at a news conference at the Hyatt Regency on April 05, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Anti-abortion activist Lauren Handy speaks at a news conference on the five fetuses found inside the home where she and other anti-abortion activists were living on Capitol Hill, at a news conference at the Hyatt Regency on April 05, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 15, 2024 05:19 AM GMT
Updated: May 15, 2024 05:27 AM GMT

Lauren Handy has been sentenced to nearly five years in federal prison -- 57 months -- for leading a blockade of a Washington abortion clinic on Oct. 22, 2020.

Handy, 30, of Alexandria, Virginia, has had short jail terms in the past for disrupting operations at abortion clinics in Michigan and Virginia. This sentence, her longest yet, was handed down by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on May 14. Justice Department prosecutors had recommended 78 months behind bars.

The judge told Handy that neither she "nor any of the other co-conspirators" had shown compassion or empathy to women at the clinic. "Your views took precedence over, frankly, their human needs," she said.

Handy declined to make a statement at sentencing. As she was led out, several people in the courtroom shouted, "You're a hero, Lauren!" They included Monica Miller, who heads the Michigan-based Red Rose Rescue, a pro-life group in which Handy has participated.

Martin Cannon, senior counsel for the Thomas More Society, the Chicago-based public interest firm that represented Handy, said they would appeal the sentence.

"They conspired to be peaceful," Cannon said of Handy and her co-defendants in a prepared statement. "Yet today, the court granted the Biden Department of Justice its wish by sentencing Ms. Handy to 57 months. For her efforts to peacefully protect the lives of innocent preborn human beings, Ms. Handy deserves thanks, not a gut-wrenching prison sentence."

Handy, a Catholic, was the first of nine participants to be sentenced after a series of trials in 2023 found all guilty of felony conspiracy against rights and violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act, for the blockade at Washington Surgi-Clinic in the District of Columbia.

The FACE Act, adopted in 1994, imposes serious penalties on those convicted of "violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct" that interferes with access to reproductive health services, typically abortion clinics.

Handy's blockade, live-streamed on Facebook, involved the use of chains, bike locks and furniture to prevent women from getting past the clinic's waiting room. The tactics, used often by Operation Rescue in the 1980s, are called a "lock and block" because outside gates are locked and inside doorways are blocked.

Handy gained international attention from an April 2022 press conference where she revealed that she had recovered the corpses of five unborn children in the prior month -- late-term fetuses which she had stored in a refrigerator -- from a box of 115 fetal bodies obtained from a medical waste truck at Washington Surgi-Clinic.

The corpses were turned over to the district's medical examiner; no autopsies were performed. The rest received a burial presided over by a Catholic priest.

Handy calls herself the director of activism for Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, or PAAU, a group founded by activist Terrisa Bukovinac in 2021.

According to the federal indictment, Handy made plans with defendant Herb Geraghty, 28, of Pittsburgh. Handy made lodging arrangements for those traveling from out of state and obtained a donation to pay for an Airbnb reservation for herself and Geraghty.

In the pre-sentencing memo, prosecutors also called Handy and defendant Jonathan Darnel, 41, of Arlington, Virginia, "the masterminds who chose the clinic, advertised the event, recruited participants, and planned the crime."

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