Mark Houck, a Catholic anti-abortion activist who was accused of assaulting a 72-year-old clinic volunteer outside a Planned Parenthood Philadelphia, was acquitted Monday of charges that he instigated the encounter to intimidate the organization’s workers, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
The Department of Justice charged Houk with two counts of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. The DOJ accused Houck of twice assaulting the volunteer at the Planned Parenthood Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center in Philadelphia.
According to the DOJ indictment obtained by The Daily Beast, the then-47-year-old Houck “forcefully shoved B.L. to the ground” and then, in a second altercation the same day, “verbally confronted B.L. and forcefully shoved B.L. to the ground.” Houck did this “because B.L. was a volunteer escort at the reproductive health care clinic,” the indictment said. The second assault caused “injuries to B.L. that required medical attention.”
“Assault is always a serious offense, and under the FACE Act, if the victim is targeted because of their association with a reproductive health care clinic, it is a federal crime,” U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero said in the statement.
The FACE Act makes it a federal crime to use force, threats, or physical obstruction to block the entrance to reproductive health clinics. Houck was arrested last year by armed FBI agents at his Bucks County home, and faced up to 11 years in prison plus three years of supervised release, in addition to a maximum fine of $350,000.
The alleged assault was denounced by MAGA media, and was framed by Houck and his supporters as an exhibit of conservative persecution. Earlier on, Jim Jordan suggested his intentions to make the case a focal point of the House GOP’s new select committee on the “weaponization of government.”
“This case has been nothing but an intimidation tactic by the Biden Justice Department,” said Peter Breen, the Thomas More Society — a Catholic public-interest law firm — attorney representing Houck, according to the Inquirer. “This matter never should have drawn the attention of the Department of Justice. And our hope here is that message was sent to Washington, D.C. to stop this harassment.”
Houck did not deny twice shoving Bruce Love, a patient escort at the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center during their 2021 altercation, per the report.
“This trial isn’t about viewpoints. It’s not about people’s views on reproductive health,” said Sanjay Patel, a trial attorney with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, during Friday’s closing arguments. “It’s about an aggressive man who used his size and his youth to shove a grandfather because the clinic provides services he opposes.”