Elderly Pro-Life Activist Sentenced for Protest at D.C. Abortion Clinic


A final pro-life activist was sentenced on Friday to years in prison for protesting at an abortion clinic infamous for late-term abortions in Washington, DC.

Unlike her co-defendants — who sat in jail for months awaiting sentencing — Harlow had been on house arrest due to her ill health, according to Live Action News, the online news outlet for the pro-life organization Live Action.

Harlow’s defense attorney Allen Orenberg reportedly stated that Harlow’s health has been rapidly declining and that prison could be detrimental to her condition.

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly — who presided over the trials — also sentenced Harlow to 36 months of supervised release.

Jonathan Darnel, a 42-year-old Iraq war veteran who served two tours, was sentenced to 34 months behind bars with credit for time served. Herb Geraghty, a 27-year-old pro-life atheist, was sentenced to 27 months in prison with credit for time served. Jean Marshall, 74, was sentenced to 24 months in prison, and Joan Bell, 76, was sentenced to 27 months in prison, according to the DOJ. Heather Idoni, 59, was sentenced to 24 months in prison, with credit for the nine months she already served since being found guilty. She is also scheduled for sentencing in July for different FACE Act charges related to a separate abortion clinic protest in Tennessee. A tenth activist, Jay Smith, was sentenced to ten months in prison in March 2023.

President Joe Biden’s DOJ brought conspiracy against rights and FACE Act charges against the pro-life activists in March of 2022 for the protest, which carried a maximum prison sentence of 11 years and $350,000 in fines. The nine activists besides Smith were found guilty in two separate trials in August and September of 2023 and were immediately taken to jail to await sentencing.

The FACE Act “prohibits threats of force, obstruction, and property damage intended to interfere with reproductive health care services,” while conspiracy against rights — a charge that carries a maximum ten-year prison sentence — “makes it unlawful for two or more persons to agree to injure, threaten, or intimidate a person in the United States in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States or because of his or her having exercised such a right,” according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Prosecutors argued that the activists organized a blockade and used chains and locks to barricade the abortion clinic. In the process, prosecutors alleged that a nurse was injured and women were unable to access the clinic through the front entrance.

“Some simply kneeled and prayed at Santangelo’s facility, some passed out pro-life literature and counseled abortion-minded women, and others roped and chained themselves together inside the facility,” according to Handy’s attorneys from the Thomas More Society, which has represented other pro-life activists like Mark Houck and David Daleiden.

Since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, the DOJ has notably charged more pro-life activists under the FACE Act than pro-abortion activists, despite FBI Director Christopher Wray admitting in November 2022 that approximately 70 percent of abortion-related threats of violence in the United States since Dobbs have been against pro-life groups.

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta also admitted in December, in remarks at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division’s 65th Anniversary, that the end of Roe v.Wade dialed up “the urgency” of the DOJ’s work, including the “enforcement of the FACE Act, to ensure continued lawful access to reproductive services.”

Out of dozens and dozens of attacks on pregnancy centers since the Dobbs leak, only a handful of pro-abortion activists have been arrested, including in Florida, New York, and Ohio.

When questioned by Republicans in March 2023 about the apparent enforcement discrepancy, Attorney General Merrick Garland claimed more pro-life activists have been prosecuted because they commit crimes “during the daylight,” while pro-abortion activists tend to strike at night.

Activists in the pro-life movement and some Republicans have been calling for the repeal of the FACE Act, arguing that the Biden administration has repeatedly weaponized the 1994 law against its political opponents.

Katherine Hamilton
Katherine Hamilton
Politics reporter. Covering Life and Liberty.

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