WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) — Three pro-life rescuers on trial in the second of two high-profile federal trials concerning an October, 2020 rescue effort at a Washington, D.C. abortion center were today found guilty on all charges and immediately incarcerated. The news comes after five other pro-life activists involved in the same rescue were similarly found guilty on all charges and immediately locked up late last month.
On Friday, pro-life rescuers Joan Andrews Bell, 74; Jonathan Darnel, 40; and Jean Marshall, 72 were found guilty of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act and conspiracy against rights for blocking access to the Washington Surgi-Clinic in downtown Washington, D.C., in a “traditional rescue” in October 2020. Pro-life “rescues” involve activists physically intervening to try to stop women from going through with abortions.
Bell’s husband Chris told LifeSiteNews that today, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, was “a very proper day to share in a very small way in Christ’s suffering, not least for the unborn who had no voice.”
“[The unborn babies] were not allowed to enter in any video or picture or role. When Joan [who represented herself in court] attempted to offer an opening and closing statement, she was silenced by the same court that continues to look away from the horror of the slaughter of the innocents,” Bell told LifeSite via phone on Friday.
He said his wife views her imminent jail sentence as an “opportunity to pray like a Carmelite cloistered nun” and continue her work as a “silent witness” seeking to “save babies who nobody wants to see or defend.”
He emphasized that extremely late-term babies “continue to be killed” at the Washington clinic, and asked supporters to continue to “pray for an end to this slaughter.”
Joan’s daughter, Theresa, told LifeSite the trial and conviction had been “very mentally and emotionally troubling.”
She said seeing her mother “go through this” as “such a peaceful woman,” attempting to convey her beliefs in the value of all human life “to people who are uneducated” about the issue had been “very emotionally draining.”
Regardless, she said her mother accepted it all “peacefully knowing that she wants to be an advocate for the babies who cannot speak.”
Theresa told LifeSite that there is “talk of an appeal,” but it’s “quite a process” and the “next move is not indicated yet.”
“Today, again justice was not served,” said Monica Miller, founder and director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, in a Friday press release shared with LifeSiteNews.
“Indeed, the innocent unborn have been struc[k] a double blow on this Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows,” she said, adding that she “heard 3 full days of testimony of this FACE trial” and watched video footage but the pro-life rescuers “never acted in violence.”
Regardless, she said, “a jury not only found them guilty of [violating the] FACE [Act], but checked off the box that they used ‘physical force in their obstruction of reproductive rights.’”
“In the end, it is still the unborn who suffer these lies, and by lies are subjected to legal extermination,” Miller said. “We must show support for these defenders of the unborn and continue to fight… until the unborn are free.”
The conviction of Bell, Darnel, and Marshall came after closing arguments in the trial heated up Thursday afternoon when in the middle of defense statements a legal fight over evidence broke out between the defense counsel and the prosecution, requiring the judge to withdraw the jury and consult procedural law for fear of the issue being sent to the appellate court.
When sentenced, the activists could face more than a decade each in prison.
The new trial followed close on the heels of an earlier one in which five other anti-abortion activists – Lauren Handy, 29; John Hinshaw, 67; William Goodman, 52; Heather Idoni, 61; and Herb (Rosemary) Geraghty, 25, were charged and found guilty in connection to their involvement in the same rescue.
As LifeSiteNews previously reported, on August 29 2023, all five activists in the first trial were found guilty and immediately incarcerated ahead of sentencing because their actions to physically block the abortuary were considered a “crime of violence.” The Thomas More Society has attempted to appeal the decision on behalf of Lauren Handy.
The charges against the rescuers stem from a federal grand jury’s two-count indictment of nine abortion opponents for allegedly taking part “in a conspiracy to create a blockade at the reproductive health care clinic to prevent the clinic from providing, and patients from receiving, reproductive health services” for blocking access to the Washington-Surgi Clinic.
According to a DOJ press release, the pro-life advocates took part in a “conspiracy” to block access to the Washington Surgi-Clinic.
Prosecutors said the defendants violated the FACE Act when they made use of “physical obstruction to injure, intimidate and interfere with the clinic’s employees and a patient, because they were providing or obtaining reproductive health services.”
The FACE Act (18 U.S.C. § 248(a)(3)) prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.”
On Monday, the three pro-lifers had expressed faith and firmness of resolve while awaiting their verdict .
“I just want to say thank you for being here,” Bell said. “Thank you for all of you who are praying for the little babies and for our case.”
Taking the podium, Marshall asked pro-lifers to “unite” with them, even if they don’t understand the rescue movement or cannot take part in it.
Darnel urged supporters to recognize the importance of the rescue movement and discounted the significance of being faced with a potential jail sentence, arguing that incarceration isn’t “the end of your life or the end of your effectiveness.”
“It’s just jail, a normative part of following God in a nation that hates Him,” he said.
When sentenced, each pro-lifer faces up to 11 years in prison plus three years of supervised release and up to $350,000 in fines.
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