The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE, is being manipulated by the Obama Administration to persecute peaceful and prayerful Pro-Life advocates. The FACE Act’s original intent was to protect clients and workers at both pregnancy resource centers and abortion clinics from harassment and injury. Recently, President Obama’s Justice Department has been using this law to prey on Pro-Life demonstrators outside of abortion centers.
FACE has been surrounded by controversy since it was passed in 1994. The legitimate concern is that the law is violating the First Amendment right to free speech for demonstrators. Congress tried to protect the law from these claims by including specific definitions for the terms “interfere with,” “intimidate” and “physical obstruction” in the act. FACE defines “interfere with” as “to restrict a person’s movement.” Under the law, to “intimidate” means “to place a person in reasonable apprehension of bodily harm to him- or herself or another.” The act describes a “physical obstruction” as “rendering impassable ingress to or egress from a facility that provides reproductive health services.”
Besides adding these legal definitions, supporters of FACE defend its constitutionality on the basis that the law’s protections apply to pregnancy resource centers and religious buildings as well as abortion mills. There is also a vague clause in the law that states the bill does not, “. . . prohibit any expressive conduct (including peaceful picketing or other peaceful demonstration).”
Eight federal courts have heard cases challenging the constitutionality of FACE. Seven of the courts, six district and one circuit, rejected the challenges in their entirety and held that FACE was constitutional. A district court in Wisconsin ruled that the law’s prohibition of nonviolent physical obstruction was unconstitutional. It is important to note that this ruling was not based on First Amendment violations, but rather Congress’s lack of authority to enact the law. The FACE Act has not yet come before the Supreme Court for a ruling.
President Obama and his administration are using FACE to go after Pro-Lifers at abortion clinics distributing literature and trying to reach women before they end the lives of their babies. Since Obama took office, the Justice Department has already filed eight civil cases under FACE. This is a dramatic increase from the one case that was filed during the eight years President Bush was in office.
The case of Dick Retta offers an obvious example of how FACE is being manipulated to fit the Obama administration’s goal of silencing all Pro-Life demonstrators. Mr. Retta is a regular part of the 40 Days for Life prayer campaign. He is 79, has 11 grandchildren, and has been a sidewalk counselor for 14 years. The Obama administration is taking him to court under FACE for his actions outside of the Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC, abortion facility this past summer.
The civil complaint states that Mr. Retta walked “very closely beside the patients as they walked to the clinic” and yelled “Don’t go in there! Don’t let them kill your baby!”
The complaint also claims Mr. Retta was, “among the most vocal and aggressive anti-abortion protestors outside of the Clinic.” The Obama Justice Department is seeking a $10,000 fine for Retta, a permanent 20-foot bubble zone be placed around the clinic barring Pro-Lifers, and that Retta pay an additional fine of $15,000 in equal parts to the three “victims” of his actions.
These cases under FACE are just a portion of the Obama administration’s plans to end Pro-Life demonstrations at abortion clinics. The Justice Department and the FBI have been meeting with pro-abortion organizations and physicians nationwide for the past two years to discuss a possible federal task force designed to prevent violence and harassment at abortion clinics.
Pro-Life organizations need to mount an educational campaign against FACE and the Obama administration’s aggressive use of this law to silence Pro-Life demonstrators. Peaceful, prayerful outreach is the key to changing the hearts and minds of women in crisis pregnancies. It is essential that the Pro-Life movement not lose its voice in this vital effort.