Anti-Abortion Activist Who Stole 5 Fetuses Sentenced to 5 Years for Invading Clinic

Lauren Handy's attorneys have already said they want to appeal her conviction to the Supreme Court to reverse a federal law protecting clinics.

Anti-Abortion Activist Who Stole 5 Fetuses Sentenced to 5 Years for Invading Clinic

A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced anti-abortion activist Lauren Handy—who stole five aborted fetuses from an abortion clinic in 2022—to almost five years in prison for invading a Washington, D.C., clinic in 2020, following her conviction under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act in August. 

Handy’s eight co-defendants, who joined her in illegally invading and blockading the D.C. clinic by chaining themselves together to the premises, received the same sentence. One of her co-defendants assaulted a nurse who then sprained her ankle; another knocked a woman experiencing labor pains to the floor, then blocked her from entering the clinic. Handy’s defense lawyers asked for a one-year prison sentence for her, while prosecutors recommended six years, calling Handy the “criminal mastermind” behind this and other abortion clinic blockades over the years. Handy has been in jail since her conviction, which was unrelated to the stolen fetuses, last summer.

The FACE Act was enacted in the 1990s to prohibit anti-abortion protesters from blocking entry to abortion clinics, after years of extreme violence and obstruction, and U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly sharply criticized Handy for her cruel treatment of clinic staff and patients. “Neither you nor any of the other co-conspirators showed any compassion, empathy, toward those two women needing medical care,” Kollar-Kotelly said on Tuesday. “Your views took precedence over, frankly, their human needs.”

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) speaks at a press conference outside of the U.S. Capitol on February 14 in support of Lauren Handy and her co-defendants for obstructing the D.C. clinic. Via Shutterstock.

In September, Handy’s attorneys said they wanted to appeal her conviction to the Supreme Court and try to reverse the FACE Act. “Since the Dobbs decision that reversed Roe, there’s a very serious question about whether the federal government has any further interest in the abortion issue,” lawyer Martin Cannon of the right-wing Thomas More Society, told the Washington Examiner, “whether there’s any federal interest at stake that has to be protected under federal law, as opposed to just having the states enforce their own laws about trespass and disorderly conduct or even state FACE-like statutes.”

Handy, leader of the anti-abortion extremist group Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, has been involved in obstructive and dangerous anti-abortion actions for years, including clinic blockades in Virginia and Michigan that resulted in jail time prior to her invasion of the D.C. clinic in October 2020. But she received significant national attention when, in March 2022, she was arrested after police received a tip that she was keeping five aborted fetuses in the refrigerator of her D.C. apartment. 

It turned out that this was Handy’s plan: Her anti-abortion associates sent the tip to the police with the intention of Handy submitting photos of the fetuses into evidence to cause an inflammatory spectacle at her trial, and in an attempt to further malign the abortion clinic from which she stole the fetuses. Kollar-Kotelly declined to allow the photos to be submitted as evidence, and blocked other “vigilante” defenses from her team. At her initial trial in August, Cannon characterized Handy and her co-defendants’ actions as “conventional sit-in kind of stuff—just like Martin Luther King has a federal holiday for.”

Three of Handy’s co-defendants—Joan Andrews Bell, Jean Marshall, and Paulette Harlow—are in their 70s; Bell is longtime anti-abortion activist who has been arrested hundreds of times for similar clinic invasions, and inspired some of the other co-defendants to join the clinic blockade, according to local news station WUSA9.

Handy’s sentencing comes as anti-abortion violence targeting abortion providers and patients has steadily been on the rise in recent years. Last May, the National Abortion Federation (NAF) reported that, from 2021 to 2022, there was a 229% increase in stalking, 231% increase in burglaries, and 100% increase in clinic arsons (from two cases in 2021 to four in 2022) at clinics across the country. As clinics continue to shutter due to state abortion bans, the ones that remain have become even more vulnerable to anti-abortion harassment and threats.

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