Abortion Access

D.C. incident provides troubling reminder of anti-abortion religious extremism

  Rob Boston

There are people in this country who are determined to shut down access to reproductive freedom, heedless of what Americans want. They do this because they are religious extremists who want to impose their beliefs on everyone else – and they long ago decided that lies, terror tactics and violence are acceptable tools to achieve their ends.

In Washington, D.C., a band of religious extremists has been found guilty of blocking access to a health clinic in a disturbing incident that occurred in October 2020. The group’s ringleader, Lauren Handy, an extremist who was once caught with fetal remains in her apartment, made an appointment at the Washington Surgi-Clinic under a false name. Two of her confederates hid nearby, and when a staff member opened the door to let Handy in, her partners rushed inside and used bicycle locks, ropes and chains to physically block the entrance to the clinic.

During the scuffle, a staff member broke her ankle. One woman, who had an appointment at the clinic, had to climb through a reception window to reach the medical staff. Another woman, who was having issues with pain, passed out.

Anti-abortion extremists face trial

It took three hours for police using saws to break through the chains and locks and clear the clinic. Handy and several confederates were arrested and charged with violating a federal law designed to protect clinics from violent protests. In court, they were represented by the Thomas More Society, a Christian Nationalist legal outfit.

Attorneys with the group attempted to employ a free-speech defense, but U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly didn’t want to hear it. The group’s actions were obviously not a protected form of free speech, Kollar-Kotelly declared.

Nevertheless, in court, attorney Martin Cannon of the Thomas More Society argued that Handy’s actions were somehow justified, reported WUSA-TV.

“In Lauren’s mind, any person she can prevent from going into that clinic is a person whose baby will not be born alive and left to die,” Cannon told the jury.

Extremist views are no defense

Yes, the woman is a religious extremist. We knew that. It’s not a defense. A person can believe any manner of extreme things; that doesn’t give them the right to take away the legal rights of others or assault health care workers.

Handy and her confederates were found guilty by a jury and may face up to 11 years in prison. The More Society is vowing to appeal.

Anti-abortion groups sometimes assert that they merely want this issue to be decided at the state level. That is not what they want. They want a complete ban on abortion, for any reason, in all 50 states – and they want to send anyone who violates the ban to prison. (Some argue that since, in their view abortion is the taking of a human life, the death penalty should be applied.)

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, the American people have made it clear that they favor keeping abortion legal. The incident in D.C. is a troubling reminder that, no matter where public opinion lands, religious extremists who believe they have a God-given right to force the rest of us to live under their narrow religious beliefs will remain a plague on our land.

Photo: A truck covered with anti-abortion messages outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Illinois. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Congress needs to hear from you!

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The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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