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Anti-abortion activist who led clinic blockade sentenced to nearly 5 years in prison

WASHINGTON (AP) — An anti-abortion activist who led others to invade and blockade a reproductive health clinic in the nation’s capital was sentenced Tuesday to nearly five years in prison.

Lauren Handy, 30, was among several people convicted of federal civil rights violations for blocking access to the Washington Surgi-Clinic on October 22, 2020. Police found five fetuses at Handy’s Washington home after his indictment.

A nurse at the clinic sprained her ankle when one of Handy’s co-defendants forced his way into the clinic and pushed her. Another co-defendant accosted a woman who was experiencing labor pains, preventing her from going down a floor and entering the clinic, prosecutors said.

In the clinic waiting room, Handy ordered the blockers to bind themselves with locks and chains and block the doors. A co-defendant used social media to livestream the blockade, which lasted several hours before police arrested the participants.

Handy refused to address the court before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly sentenced her to four years and nine months in prison.

Handy’s supporters applauded as she was led from the courtroom. “You’re a hero, Lauren!” » shouted one of them.

The judge told Handy she was being punished for her actions, not her beliefs.

“The law does not protect violent or obstructive behavior, nor should it,” Kollar-Kotelly said.

Prosecutors recommended a prison sentence of about six years for Handy. They described her as an anti-abortion extremist who was the “criminal mastermind” behind the invasion of Washington and similar attacks on other clinics.

“Her strong anti-abortion beliefs led her to devise a plan to block access to the Surgi Clinic,” prosecutors wrote. “The blockade, which was broadcast to Handy’s legion of supporters, encouraged others to commit similar crimes, publicized his own offense, and traumatized the victims.

A jury found Handy guilty of two counts: anti-rights conspiracy and violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, more commonly known as the FACE Act.

Defense attorneys requested a one-year prison sentence for Handy, who has been imprisoned since her conviction in August 2023. Her attorneys described her as a compassionate activist who “cares deeply about the vulnerable communities she serves.”

“His purpose in life is to protect those who cannot protect themselves and to empower those who do not feel they have any power,” the defense attorneys wrote.

Handy’s nine co-defendants were Jonathan Darnel, of Virginia; Jay Smith, John Hinshaw and William Goodman, all of New York; Joan Bell, of New Jersey; Paulette Harlow and Jean Marshall, both of Massachusetts; Heather Idoni of Michigan; and Herb Geraghty, of Pennsylvania.

Smith was sentenced last year to 10 months in prison. Hinshaw, Idoni and Goodman were also scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday. Darnel, Geraghty, Marshall and Bell are expected to be sentenced Wednesday. Harlow’s sentencing is set for May 31.

“These are good people who wouldn’t hurt anyone on purpose,” said Martin Cannon, one of Handy’s attorneys. “Lauren has done enough time. Send Lauren home. Send them all home.

Darnel joined Handy in planning and leading the invasion of the Washington clinic, using social media to recruit participants and discuss their plans, prosecutors said.

Handy used a fake name to make a fake appointment at the clinic the morning of the invasion. When a clinic employee unlocked a door to admit patients, the defendants forced their way inside while Darnel livestreamed the blockade.

“While the co-defendants executed the blockade, Handy used a rope stretched across the entryway to obstruct entry into the clinic waiting room,” prosecutors wrote. “After the blockade was successfully executed, Handy briefly left the building to serve as the group’s police liaison.”

The judge said Handy and his fellow activists showed no compassion or empathy toward patients who were unable to get care that day.

“No gesture of care or sympathy,” Kollar-Kotelly said.

Handy and some of his co-defendants also blocked reproductive health clinics in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Alexandria, Virginia, after the invasion of Washington, prosecutors said.

Handy’s lawyers said she founded and ran a nonprofit, Mercy Missions, that “helps families and mothers with difficult pregnancies.” She also joined a group called Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising before her arrest in March 2022.

yahoo

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