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WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) – Republican senators excoriated Biden administration Attorney General Merrick Garland Wednesday for the U.S. Justice Department’s (DOJ’s) “unbelievable show of force” against acquitted pro-life activist Mark Houck in what pro-lifers say is one of the most egregious examples of the federal government’s discrimination against its political opponents.

While sidewalk counseling outside a Philadelphia abortion facility in 2021, Houck pushed 70-year-old pro-abortion activist Bruce Love, who had been harassing his then-12-year-old son. The family says Houck shoved the man away to protect the child from Love, who was verbally hostile and had intruded on his personal space, and though Love fell down he was uninjured.

The altercation, a local matter that had long since been tossed out of court when Love failed to appear for a hearing in his civil suit, somehow drew the interest of the DOJ under Garland and President Joe Biden, which on the morning of September 23, 2022 sent a team of 25 to 30 FBI agents and around 15 vehicles to swarm their property.

Weapons drawn, “they started pounding on the door and yelling for us to open it,” according to Mark’s wife Ryan-Marie. Frightening their children, the agents arrested Houck and took him away, charging him with violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, due to a claimed “ATTACK OF A PATIENT ESCORT,” punishable by potentially a decade in prison and a $350,000 fine.

The case drew intense national scrutiny and outrage, and in January a jury found Houck not guilty of either felony the administration had charged him with. “The jury saw through and rejected the prosecution’s discriminatory case, which was harassment from day one,” said Thomas More Society Executive Vice President & Head of Litigation Peter Breen at the time. “The Biden Department of Justice’s intimidation against pro-life people and people of faith has been put in its place.”

But the issue of a federal government willing to take such drastic actions against its own citizens remained, and on Wednesday Garland appeared before a hearing of the Senate Oversight Committee, where several of the Senate’s most conservative members took him to task over the incident, and his department’s notably milder approach to pro-abortion violence.

“Why do you send two dozen agents in body armor to arrest a sidewalk counselor who happens to be pro-life but you don’t devote resources to prosecute people who were violently firebombing crisis pregnancy centers?” asked Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). 

Garland claimed that investigating and punishing the firebombings was a priority, and that one group had been prosecuted, but suggested the investigation was complicated by the fact that the attacks were carried out at night. He also evaded responsibility for the Houck raid by stressing that such decisions are “made at the level of the FBI agents on scene,” and noted that the FBI “disagrees” with Cruz’s description of the incident.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) confronted Garland with the facts that before the DOJ decided to step in, the Philadelphia district attorney had opted not to prosecute Houck and the civil suit had been dismissed, and that when all was said and done, the jury in the federal case only needed an hour to decide to acquit him.

“You used an unbelievable show of force with guns, that I just note, liberals usually decry,” Halwey said. “We’re supposed to hate long guns and assault-style weapons, you’re happy to deploy them against Catholics and innocent children.” Garland insisted the “facts are not as you describe,” but would not elaborate beyond claiming the FBI disputes “how many agents, of the agents that were there, and what their roles were.” Halwey reiterated that DOJ’s conduct was “disgraceful.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) called out Garland’s claim to take pro-abortion violence seriously by noting that his department “has announced charges against 34 individuals for blocking access to or vandalizing abortion clinics,” whereas “there have been over 81 reported attacks on pregnancy centers, 130 attacks on Catholic churches since the leak of the Dobbs decision [overturning Roe v. Wade], and only two individuals have been charged.”

READ: FBI director Christopher Wray defends heavily-armed raid of Mark Houck’s home in Fox News interview

Garland said that the FACE Act applies equally to both sides, but claimed the discrepancy was due not to politics but because infractions against abortion center “access” are generally in broad daylight with abundant witnesses and photography to more easily identify perpetrators. He also claimed the DOJ has reached out to victimized churches and pregnancy centers.

Yet “pro-life centers and organizations that were attacked over the summer in the fallout of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization leak, like Concerned Women for America, tell The Daily Signal that they have not heard from the FBI,” the Daily Signal reported in October, citing an interview with CWA president Penny Nance.

The May 2022 leak of the Dobbs ruling sparked outrage among the abortion lobby, taking the form of the aforementioned attacks and intimidating protests outside Republican-appointed justices’ homes – with the approval of the White House and then-House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi – and even a man who wanted to kill Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The pressure campaign failed to influence the final Dobbs ruling, but left behind severe questions about the integrity and safety of the court. The Court announced in January that an investigation had failed to identify the leaker.

The use of federal law enforcement to retaliate against political opponents has been one of the most alarming facets of the Biden presidency.

Since January 2021, the administration has aggressively pursued individuals alleged to have participated in the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol protesting the certification of Biden’s electoral victory over predecessor Donald Trump. In September, an FBI whistleblower, Special Agent Steve Friend, was suspended for protesting the excessive treatment of January 6 suspects accused only of nonviolent misdemeanors, as well as the bureau’s alleged manipulation of information to give the public an inflated perception of the “threat.”

Also in 2021, Garland and the DOJ alleged a spike in threats to educators driven by opposition to the use of controversial instructional materials based on the far-left “critical race theory” doctrine, which was used to stigmatize parents protesting objectionable materials more generally as potential terrorists.