The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

Federal Prosecution for Threats Against "Crisis Pregnancy Center"


The case is U.S. v. Freestone; here's the Justice Department's press release, from late January:

The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in the Middle District of Florida, alleges that Caleb Freestone, 27, and Amber Smith-Stewart, 23, engaged in a conspiracy to prevent employees of reproductive health services facilities from providing those services. According to the indictment, as part of the conspiracy, the defendants targeted pregnancy resource facilities and vandalized those facilities with spray-painted threats. According to the indictment, Freestone and Smith-Stewart, and other co-conspirators, are alleged to have spray painted threats, including "If abortions aren't safe than niether [sic] are you," "YOUR TIME IS UP!!," "WE'RE COMING for U," and "We are everywhere," on a reproductive health services facility in Winter Haven, Florida. The indictment further alleges that facilities in Hollywood, Florida, and Hialeah, Florida, were also targeted.

The indictment also alleges that Freestone and Smith-Stewart violated the FACE Act by using threats of force to intimidate and interfere with the employees of a reproductive health services facility in Winter Haven because those employees were providing or seeking to provide reproductive health services. The indictment further alleges that Freestone and Smith-Stewart violated the FACE Act by intentionally damaging and destroying the facility's property because the facility provides reproductive health services.

The 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act is generally used for threats against abortion clinics, but it more broadly covers any "facility that provides reproductive health services," "includ[ing] medical, surgical, counselling or referral services relating to the human reproductive system, including services relating to pregnancy or the termination of a pregnancy." The clinics that the defendants targeted allegedly "provide[d] abortion alternatives including counselling, pregnancy testing, ultrasound examinations, and referral services." Here's the Justice Department's broader statement about the Act:

The FACE Act is not about abortions. The statute protects all patients, providers, and facilities that provide reproductive health services, including pro-life pregnancy counseling services and any other pregnancy support facility providing reproductive health care.

Sounds quite right to me. (For an argument opposing the prosecution, see this item by Natasha Lennard [The Intercept]; I'm not persuaded by it, given that the law was indeed deliberately written to protect not just abortion clinics, but all entities that provide "services relating to pregnancy.")