Catholic activist behind abortion clinic blockade merits 6.5 years

3 mins read
Lauren Handy
Pro-life activist Lauren Handy chants slogans against abortion outside the Supreme Court in Washington Dec. 10, 2021. Handy, and two other pro-life activists, were sentenced to federal prison May 14, 2024, for their role in carrying out an Oct. 22, 2020, "lock and block" operation at a District of Columbia abortion clinic they livestreamed over Facebook. (OSV News photo/Sarah Silbiger, Reuters) (OSV News photo/Sarah Silbiger, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — In 2022, pro-life activist Lauren Handy told a reporter, “I feel like the die has been cast for me. I’ve accepted the reality that my life will be in and out of jail.”

On May 14, Handy, a resident of Alexandria, Virginia, who has had short jail terms in the past for disrupting operations at abortion clinics in Michigan and Virginia, is expected to face her stiffest sentence yet.

Pro-life activist faces lengthy prison sentence

In a sentencing memorandum filed April 12, Justice Department prosecutors recommended Handy serve up to six and a half years in federal prison for the Oct. 22, 2020, “lock and block” operation at the Washington Surgi-Clinic in the District of Columbia, which was livestreamed over Facebook.

The blockade involved the use of chains, bike locks and furniture to prevent women from getting past the abortion clinic’s waiting room. The tactics, used often in the 1980s against abortion clinics and revived only recently, are called “lock and block,” because activists attempt to lock gates outside and block doors inside.

Recovery of fetal remains

Handy gained international attention from an April 2022 press conference where she revealed that she had recovered the corpses of five unborn children in the prior month — late-term fetuses, which she had stored in a refrigerator — from a box of 115 fetal bodies obtained from a medical waste truck at Washington Surgi-Clinic.

The late-term fetuses were turned over to the district’s medical examiner; no autopsies were performed. The rest received a burial presided over by a Catholic priest.

Handy, a Catholic, calls herself the director of activism for Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, founded by activist Terrisa Bukovinac in 2021.

Convicted along with Handy, in a series of 2023 trials in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia of felony conspiracy against rights and violation of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act, were John Hinshaw of Levittown, New York; Heather Idoni of Linden, Michigan; William Goodman of Bronx, New York; Herb Geraghty of Pittsburgh; Jonathan Darnel of Arlington, Virginia; Joan Andrews Bell of Montague, New Jersey; and Jean Marshall and Paula “Paulette” Harlow, sisters from Kingston, Massachusetts.

Because Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that using force to prevent women from entering the clinic is a violent crime by statute, all were incarcerated immediately in Alexandria, Virginia.

In March 2023, a 10th defendant, Jay Smith of Freeport, New York, entered a guilty plea and received a 10-month sentence.

In additional sentencing memoranda submitted in April, prosecutors recommended that all of the remaining defendants be sentenced to prison terms of at least two years.

They called Handy and Darnel, who livestreamed the blockade on Facebook, “the masterminds who chose the clinic, advertised the event, recruited participants, and planned the crime.”

They also said Handy “committed perjury and has not demonstrated any willingness to stop and encourage others to find lawful ways to advance their beliefs.”

Following the Washington abortion clinic blockade, Handy carried out abortion clinic blockades in Maryland and Virginia in 2021. Judge Kollar-Kotelly also learned in February 2023 that Handy attempted to coordinate two more clinic blockades in Maryland, while awaiting trial, and imposed new restrictions on Handy’s communications.

Proposed sentences for defendants

Handy’s proposed sentence is at the high end of federal sentencing guidelines: 63 to 78 months.

“Handy faced a clear choice: to engage in forceful and obstructive conduct or engage in lawful protest,” prosecutors said. “Handy chose the former and led her co-defendants’ forceful take-over of the clinic that obstructed access to the facility.”

Prosecutors recommended for Darnel, the high end of 41-51 months; for Marshall, Bell and Idoni, the high end of 33-41 months; for Geraghty and Goodman, the mid-range of 33-41 months; for Harlow, the low end of 33-41 months; and for Hinshaw, the low end of 27-33 months.

In addition to Handy, Hinshaw, Idoni and Goodman are scheduled for the May 14 sentencing. Geraghty, Darnel, Marshal and Bell will be sentenced the following day, with Harlow sentenced May 16 and Idoni June 21.

The FACE Act, adopted in 1994, imposes serious penalties on those convicted of “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct” that interferes with access to health care providers. While it has often been applied to abortion clinics, the Justice Department is also using it to prosecute attacks on pregnancy help centers.

Criticism and defense

Handy, in a September statement on the PAAU webpage, acknowledged that many in the pro-life movement “don’t agree with Rescue and now consider me useless because I am behind bars. This shows once again how our movement often comes off as gimmicky and inauthentic.”

She wrote, “My vocation is to love … not to be reduced down to a function for the ’cause.’ My time in jail is the alabaster jar of perfume pouring out for the rejected and unloved.”

In a statement to OSV News, Monica Miller, director of the Michigan-based Citizens for a Pro-Life Society and the organizer of Red Rose Rescue, called the proposed sentences “grossly unfair and unjust.”

In contrast, she said, the unborn children killed at that clinic “remained invisible.”

Kurt Jensen

Kurt Jensen reports for OSV News from Washington.