DC Abortion Clinic Blockade Activists Sentenced to 23 Years


An activist involved in a blockade at a Washington, D.C., abortion clinic in 2020 received a two-year prison sentence on Friday, bringing the total sentences for the 10 individuals involved to 23 years.

Paulette Harlow, 59, and nine others participated in what they called a “rescue” at the clinic, using chains, bike locks, and ropes to obstruct the entrance for over two hours.

Nine were convicted, either through jury or bench trials, of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) and conspiring to infringe upon civil rights. A tenth individual pleaded guilty to one FACE Act charge. Although the FACE Act has existed for many years, its enforcement has intensified under the Biden administration’s Department of Justice.

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly found Harlow guilty of “jostling past three employees” and pushing a clinic manager into a chair in a waiting room, though the manager was unhurt. Harlow and four others then chained themselves together, blocking the clinic entrance.

Lauren Handy, who organized the blockade and was a co-defendant, received the longest sentence earlier this month, amounting to four years and nine months in prison.

Sentences for others involved ranged from 10 months for Jay Smith, who pleaded guilty, to two years and 10 months for Jonathan Darnel, who remained outside the clinic during the blockade and livestreamed the event.

One nurse incurred a sprained ankle during the protest, according to court documents. The blockade also prevented numerous patients from entering the clinic, including one experiencing “severe labor pains,” as stated in court papers.

Martin Cannon, senior counsel at the Thomas More Society and Handy’s attorney, expressed his belief that the sentences were unjust and intends to assist the defendants with their appeals.

“These people are peaceful,” Cannon told the Truth Voices. “They’re addressing a very important social issue, one around which there is significant national division. These aren’t monsters.”

Cannon noted the unusual nature of the DOJ’s strategy, pairing the FACE Act—which generally incurs no more than a one-year sentence for first-time offenders—with a conspiracy charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Cannon argued that this strategy creates what he termed “dirty pool.”

“One effect is transforming a misdemeanor into a potentially 10-year prison term,” Cannon remarked. “Another is enabling the conviction of multiple individuals for conspiracy even when only a few actually committed the act of blocking. If proving the case against the remaining defendants is difficult, labeling it a conspiracy secures their convictions anyway.”

Handy, the blockade leader, has a longstanding history of protests at abortion clinics. In 2022, police discovered she had the remains of five nearly full-term aborted fetuses in her apartment, according to photographs of the incident.

Handy claimed she recovered the aborted remains from the Washington Surgi-Clinic, the same site of the blockade.

Dr. Cesare Santangelo, who operated the clinic at the time, was once recorded by the advocacy group Live Action during an undercover operation, saying he “would not help” a baby if it were born alive during a late-term abortion procedure.

Ashley Oliver
Ashley Oliver
Ashley Oliver is a Justice Department reporter. She previously covered Congress and campaigns for Breitbart News. Originally from Fredericksburg, Virginia, she graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in classics and philosophy before spending six years in Massachusetts working in the real estate industry.

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