Tuesday 12 March 2024

South Carolina Man Who Blocked Abortion Clinic Entrance Found Guilty of Violating FACE Act

 A South Carolina man was found guilty on Monday of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act after blocking the entrance to an abortion clinic in November of 2022.

Steven Clark Lefemine, 68, is facing a maximum penalty of six months in federal prison, a fine of up to $10,000, and one year of supervision to follow the term of imprisonment, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The FACE Act was passed in 1994 and “prohibits threats of force, obstruction and property damage intended to interfere with reproductive health care services.”

Lefemine, whom The State described as a “Bible-quoting, hymn-singing, Constitution-citing anti-abortion activist,”  sat in front of the entrance to Planned Parenthood South Atlantic in Columbia and blocked access to the facility on Nov. 15, 2022. Employees of the abortion clinic filmed the incident and said they are familiar with Lefemine because he protests often at the clinic, according to the DOJ. 

Lefemine acted as his own attorney during his trial, and he admitted in his testimony to blocking the doors to the clinic to prevent abortions. His guilty verdict is the first successful conviction of its kind in the state, according to The Post and Courier

“We will protect South Carolinians’ right to peacefully protest, but we will also protect their right to access healthcare facilities,” said Adair F. Boroughs, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina. “Lefemine’s protest became unlawful when he physically prevented patients from entering Planned Parenthood.”

Lefemine emphasized during the trial that the evidence presented shows he was not a threat to the clinic, especially because he informed police before he showed up to protest at the clinic. He also noted that he left with officers peacefully when he was arrested, according to The State.

United States District Judge Joseph A. Anderson, who presided over the case, said he respected Lefemine’s “deeply held beliefs” and that he had acted “in accordance with an age-old tradition in this country that sometimes has resulted in changes in the law,” the report states. 

“Anderson was referring to civil disobedience, whereby activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. have deliberately disobeyed laws they believed were immoral and suffered fines or jail to bring attention to their causes,” according to the report. 

The FBI worked with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to bring a federal charge against Lefemine after Columbia police arrested him for trespassing. 

“Several FBI agents were in the courtroom Monday but did not testify,” the report states. 

Lefemine was found guilty earlier this year on the trespassing charge and paid a $465 fine. He was then indicted by a federal grand jury in February of 2023 on the FACE Act charge related to the clinic protest. 

After the Monday trial, Lefemine said: “As Christians, we are not necessarily called to win all the time, we are called to be a witness.”

Lefemine is the latest of dozens of pro-life activists to face or be found guilty on federal charges related to abortion clinic protests and pro-life activism.  

The FACE Act was written to equally protect abortion clinics, pro-life pregnancy resource centers, and churches. However, since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, the DOJ has notably charged more pro-life activists under the FACE Act than pro-abortion activists, even though FBI Director Christopher Wray admitted in November 2022 that approximately 70 percent of abortion-related threats of violence in the United States since the Dobbs decision have been against pro-life groups.

In December 2022, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta also admitted 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 of attacks on pregnancy centers since the Dobbs leak, only a handful of pro-abortion activists have been arrested, including in FloridaNew York, and Ohio.

When questioned by Republicans in March of 2023 about the apparent enforcement discrepancy, 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.

Republicans renewed their call to repeal the FACE Act in February after six pro-life activists were found guilty for “conspiracy against rights” and violating the FACE Act in relation to a peaceful protest outside of a Tennessee abortion facility in 2021. Those activists face up to 11 years in prison.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) introduced the FACE Act Repeal Act in September of 2023, after eight other pro-life activists, who are still in jail, were found guilty of violating the FACE Act and conspiracy against rights for their role in an abortion clinic blockade that took place in Washington, DC, in October 2020. They could also face up to 11 years in prison.

“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 at the time. “Our Constitution separates power between the federal government and the states for a reason, and we ignore that safeguard at our own peril. The FACE Act is an unconstitutional federal takeover of state police powers; it must be repealed.”

If reelected, Former President Donald Trump pledged to create a task force to review and potentially pardon or commute the sentences of every “political prisoner who’s been unjustly persecuted by the Biden administration.”

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