Republicans Are Trying to Get Rid of Law That Protects Abortion Clinics From Violence

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) has introduced legislation to repeal the FACE Act, essentially saying that people should have the right to invade and harass clinics.

Republicans Are Trying to Get Rid of Law That Protects Abortion Clinics From Violence
Photo:Zach Gibson (Getty Images)

Anti-abortion lawmakers and lawyers are targeting a law used to keep abortion clinics safe after a number of high-profile convictions of anti-abortion activists. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) introduced H.R. 5577 on Tuesday, along with 25 other Republicans, to repeal the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE Act). Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)—one of the few senators to support Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.)’s months-long anti-abortion crusade in the Senate—says he plans to introduce companion legislation in the upper chamber.

The FACE Act makes it illegal to use “force, obstruction and property damage intended to interfere with reproductive health care services,” according to the Department of Justice. The law was passed in 1994 after clinics had been facing invasions, trespassing, and vandalism, as well as bomb threats and actual bombings, for decades. In 1994 alone, four people were murdered, including two abortion providers, a clinic volunteer, and two clinic receptionists. (There have also been at least 11 murders against abortion providers since 1977, according to the National Abortion Federation.)

While Roy’s immediate bill isn’t likely to pass (this is the second time he’s introduced it this year), it is a part of a larger puzzle to make bodily autonomy completely inaccessible. In addition to Roy and Lee’s legislative attempts, attorneys for anti-abortion activist Lauren Handy (whose conviction is one of Roy’s reasons for re-introducing the legislation) told the right-wing Washington Examiner that they plan to argue that the FACE Act is actually a state issue, not a federal one, after the Dobbs Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.

In October 2020, Handy made an appointment at a Washington, D.C. abortion clinic (aka took a spot from a patient who actually needed it) and forced her way inside, along with eight other people. After barricading and locking themselves to doors and chairs, police had to use power tools to open the clinic back up to its patients. (This is the same anti-abortion activist who, in March 2022—one day after federal charges, including the FACE Act violation were announced—had five fetuses removed from her fridge by D.C. Metropolitan Police.)

Handy, along with Heather Idoni, William Goodman, John Hinshaw, and Herb Geraghty were found guilty of two felony counts each for conspiracy against rights and violating the FACE Act in August. The group was taken into custody, pending a sentence of up to 11 years in federal prison and six-figure fines— spurring Roy to try and repeal the Act for the second time.

“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,” Handy’s attorney, Martin Cannon, of the anti-abortion law firm the 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’s legal team will file a “full appeal on constitutional grounds” on Sept. 29.

The FACE Act is becoming an important target for anti-abortion politicians because it’s the next phase of the war on abortion. First, the most obvious, remove constitutional protection for abortions. Check! Next, vilify medication abortion and potentially get it removed from the market. In progress! Finally, make it as uncomfortable as possible for people to come to clinics. How to do that? Try to get medication abortion off the market (they’re working on it) so people are forced to receive care in person. Then, remove legal protections against clinic harassment and invasion as Roy proposes, and ask the Supreme Court to declare “buffer zones” outside abortion clinics unconstitutional.

“Free Americans should never live in fear of their government targeting them because of their beliefs. Yet, Biden’s Department of Justice has brazenly weaponized the FACE Act against normal, everyday Americans across the political spectrum, simply because they are pro-life,” Roy said in a statement on Tuesday. “The FACE Act is an unconstitutional federal takeover of state police powers; it must be repealed.” I’d also argue that “Free Americans” shouldn’t live in fear of other Americans literally invading the health clinic where they’re trying to receive healthcare. But, y’know, tu-may-to, tu-mah-to.

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