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GOP Senators Torch Garland for Targeting Pro-Life Activists in the Aftermath of Dobbs

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Editor's note: This piece was update to include a statement from Heartbeat International.

On Wednesday, GOP Sen. Mike Lee (UT) questioned United States Attorney General Merrick Garland over the arrest of Mark Houck, a pro-life activist who was arrested for allegedly violating the FACE Act in an altercation with an abortion clinic escort, as well as several other pro-lifers who’ve been targeted by Biden’s DOJ.


As Townhall covered, Houck, 48, was found not guilty this month of federal charges that he violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act over the incident, which occurred near Philadelphia in October 2021. The FACE prohibits violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain or provide reproductive health services.

Houck, a father of seven, allegedly pushed a Planned Parenthood escort who was verbally harassing his son. In 2022, Houck was arrested at his home in front of his wife and children despite the fact that the charges surrounding the incident had been tossed out by a district court. Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie, told LifeSiteNews that a SWAT team of 25 to 30 agents in 15 vehicles surrounded their home in Pennsylvania with rifles at 7 a.m. 

“They started pounding on the door and yelling for us to open it,” Ryan-Marie said, adding that the rifles were “kind of pointed throughout the house.”

In Wednesday’s Senate hearing, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) pressed Garland on the treatment of Houck and other pro-life activists who’ve been targeted by the DOJ, as well as the fact that only two individuals have been charged in attacks against pro-life centers and Catholic churches.


“It doesn’t seem justifiable to me to have that overwhelming show of force for conduct like that,” Lee said to Garland of Houck allegedly pushing an abortion escort. “In the meantime…DOJ’s announced charges against 34 for blocking access to or vandalizing abortion clinics. And, there have been 81 reported attacks on pregnancy centers, 130 attacks on Catholic churches since the leak of the Dobbs decision, and only two individuals have been charged. So how do you explain this disparity by reference to anything other than politicization of what’s happening there?”

“The FACE Act applies equally to efforts to damage, blockade clinics, whether they are pregnancy resource centers or whether they are an abortion center,” Garland responded, stuttering. “It applies equally in both cases and we apply the law equally. I will say, you are quite right, there are many more prosecutions with respect to the blocking of the abortion centers but that is generally because those actions are taken with photography at the time, during the daylight, and seeing the person who did it is quite easy. Those who are attacking the pregnancy resource centers, which is a horrid thing to do, are doing this at night in the dark. We have put full resources on this. We have put rewards out for this. The Justice Department and the FBI have made outreach to Catholic and other organizations to ask for their help in identifying the people who are doing this. We will process every case against a pregnancy resource center that we can make.” 


Sarah covered last month that eight more pro-life activists were indicted under the FACE Act for protesting outside an abortion clinic. According to the DOJ, the pro-life activists allegedly physically interfered with employees and patients from entering abortion clinic.

“It's about time Attorney General Merrick Garland is asked the tough questions regarding who is being prosecuted for a crime and who is not. More than 70 pregnancy help organizations in nearly 30 states nationwide have been attacked since last May, and yet only one couple has been arrested. Why? Every time a center closes for repair, it is the women who suffer. Pro-life pregnancy help organizations provide free care and support to women in need at no cost to them, saving taxpayers money. Yet, it appears the Attorney General would rather put taxpayer money behind arresting peaceful protestors than investigating these vicious attacks," Andrea Trudden, vice president of communications and marketing at Heartbeat Intertional told Townhall. As Townhall covered, HI oversees the largest network of pregnancy help centers.


And, CatholicVote, which has been keeping track of attacks on churches, said that pro-lifers protesting in front of abortion centers in daylight is protected by the U.S. Constitution, whereas the attacks on pregnancy centers are criminal, which is why they occur at night. 

In addition, pro-abortion supporters have been protesting in front of the homes of pro-life Supreme Court justices, such as Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Justice Amy Coney Barrett. These protests, which Townhall has covered, are illegal. At one point, Justice Samuel Alito was moved to an undisclosed location for his safety. And, in another case, an armed man was arrested near Kavanaugh’s home and allegedly told law enforcement that he was planning to kill him because he was angry about the Dobbs ruling. 

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) torched Garland for ignoring the threats and protests against pro-life justices, which have been occurring since the Dobbs leak last year.


“You spent 20 years as a judge and you’re perfectly content with justices being afraid for their children’s lives and you did nothing to prosecute it,” Cruz said.

“Given the resources that you are expending, and the apparent intelligence assets that you are deploying against Catholics, it appears, and other people of faith, while simultaneously turning a blind eye while people are executed gang style on the streets of our cities…let’s talk about the Mark Houck case, for example…this is a case where a Catholic, pro-life demonstrator, father, was accused of disorderly conduct in front of an abortion center. The local prosecutor, the Philadelphia District Attorney, who is a Democrat, a liberal, very progressive, declined to prosecute…and then after all of that, your Justice Department sent between 20 and 30 armed agents in the early morning hours to the Houck’s private residence to arrest this guy after he had offered to turn himself in voluntarily,” Hawley said. “Why did you send 20 to 30 SWAT-style agents, SWAT-style team to this guy’s house when everybody else had declined to prosecute and he offered to turn himself in?”


Garland claimed that the decision for how to carry out arrests are carried out by the tactical operators in the district. 

“All I know is what the FBI has said, which is they made the decisions on the ground as to what was safest and easiest. And I do not agree with your description of what happened on the scene,” Garland said, though a picture of the agents surrounding the home was on display.

“Mrs. Houck has said repeatedly that the children were screaming. They feared for their lives…they got the guns pointing at the house and at them. He has offered to turn himself in. And this is who you go to terrorize?” Hawley pressed, pointing out that it goes against Garland’s own directives on the use of force. 

"You used an unbelievable show of force with guns, that I'd just note liberals usually decry...You're happy to deploy them against Catholics and innocent children,” Hawley said.

Hawley noted that it took the jury one hour to acquit Houck of the charges against him. 

“I suggest to you that that is a disgraceful performance by your Justice Department and a disgraceful use of resources,” he said.


“The FBI is not targeting Catholics,” Garland claimed. He said that he also believes that the Department does not have any informants aimed at Catholic churches.  

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