Senators Condemn DOJ’s Actions Against Pro-Life Activists Amid Activist’s $4.3M Lawsuit


Last week, 22 senators released a statement condemning what they describe as the Democrats’ misuse of the legal system, singling out “activist attorneys” and courts for their actions against pro-life Americans. One prominent case highlighted was that of Mark Houck, a Catholic pro-life activist who was arrested in 2022 and acquitted in 2023; last month, he filed a $4.3 million lawsuit against the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Houck gained national attention when 20 heavily armed law enforcement officers arrested him on September 23, 2022, at his home in Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, in front of his wife and seven children. Previously, he had agreed to surrender peacefully in response to federal charges.

On October 13, 2021, Houck was outside the Blackwell abortion facility in Philadelphia when he pushed a Planned Parenthood escort away from his 12-year-old son, who he claimed was being aggressively verbally harassed by the man. Video footage captured Planned Parenthood volunteer Bruce Love walking away from the facility’s entrance seemingly to intimidate and harass Houck and his son.

Local police and the district attorney dismissed Love’s attempts to bring charges against Houck, and a Philadelphia municipal court dismissed a lawsuit against him. Despite this, the DOJ indicted Houck on charges of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which threatened a maximum sentence of 11 years in prison. In January 2023, a jury acquitted Houck in less than an hour.

Houck is an active participant in the pro-life 40 Days for Life campaigns and has teamed up with the organization’s new legal entity, the Institute of Law and Justice, to file his lawsuit.

The 40 Days for Life organization had previously relied on external legal representation to protect the rights of their participants. Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, they have “overwhelmed” law firms with requests for help amid attacks from abortion advocates and law enforcement, according to Shawn Carney, the organization’s president and CEO.

A Win for All Pro-life Americans

Houck initially submitted a notice of claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act, against six police officers involved in the home raid. The claim asserts that the Biden DOJ engaged in “malicious prosecution, retaliatory prosecution, abuse of process, false arrest, assault, and intentional infliction of emotional distress” against the Houck family. Having fulfilled the six-month notice period as of November 2023, the claim is now an active lawsuit.

Houck’s lawsuit aims to deliver a strong warning to law enforcement nationwide that pro-life advocates’ constitutional rights should be respected and that any abuses of power will be legally challenged.

Matt Britton, the general counsel for 40 Days for Life, notes that many lower court cases don’t get appealed due to a lack of resources, making them less reported. “Based on those that are appealed, it seems to me that trial courts are increasingly willing to side with ideology over law,” he said.

By bypassing the lower courts and moving directly to the federal level, Houck’s new case commanded widespread media attention. Despite the federal authorities’ 95 percent conviction rate, Houck and his legal team were optimistic about their chances. Houck rejected a plea deal, which would have nullified his ability to sue, ensuring the potential risk to “all pro-life Americans” remained intact, Carney said. “He has a very strong [suit].”

Escalating Aggression

The increasing aggression toward peaceful protesters represents a turning point in the relationship between pro-life activists and federal law enforcement since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, according to Carney. Before the Dobbs v. Jackson decision in 2022, a “strong working relationship with local and federal law enforcement,” coupled with 40 Days’ reputation for peacefulness, resulted in fair treatment for their participants.

“One of the initial actions our local leaders take when organizing a campaign is to meet with local police to ensure the safety of our volunteers,” Carney said. “We’ve had good relations with various DOJ administrations from Bush to Biden. However, following the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, we observed a noticeable change, with a discriminatory attitude toward pro-life Americans from the DOJ.”

Houck’s arrest exemplified an unprecedented level of aggression against 40 Days participants, Carney said.

“I haven’t encountered any DOJ employee, past or present, who has ever known someone’s home to be raided despite their willingness to surrender,” Carney stated. “It’s absurd, and if it can happen to him, it can happen to any American.”

“There appears to be a trend among lawyers and litigants to pursue almost any action to advance a case or agenda,” Britton added. “In my opinion, federal, state, and local governments and courts have adopted a notably pro-abortion stance in the cases they pursue and prosecute.”

The Institute of Law and Justice has so far won every case it has undertaken and is currently handling about 35 active cases defending free speech and other legal rights of volunteers.

“Even those who support abortion and disagree with us often support our legal efforts to protect free speech,” Carney said. “Ultimately, Americans do not wish to see citizens arrested or raided simply for expressing their opinions in public spaces. We all believe that we have the right to be right and the right to be wrong on any given issue.”

Ashley Bateman
Ashley Bateman
Contributor. Ashley Bateman is a policy writer for The Heartland Institute and blogger for Ascension Press. Her work has been featured in The Washington Times, The Daily Caller, The New York Post, The American Thinker and numerous other publications. Ashley is a board member at a Catholic homeschool cooperative in Virginia. She homeschools her four incredible children along with her brilliant engineer/scientist husband.

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