Mark Houck cleared of FACE Act charges in rebuke to Justice Department’s aggressive prosecution

Mark Houck cleared of FACE Act charges in rebuke to Justice Department’s aggressive prosecutionAfter being acquitted of federal charges by a jury in Philadelphia on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, Mark Houck embraces and kisses his wife, Ryan-Marie Houck. Also with Houck are his son Mark Houck Jr., 14, and his daughter, Ava Houck, 12. (Joe Bukuras/CNA)

(CNA) Pro-life activist Mark Houck was found not guilty Monday on federal assault charges stemming from a shoving incident outside a Philadelphia abortion clinic.

Supporters of the Catholic father of seven cried and hugged one another after the verdict was read in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

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Following his acquittal, Houck told reporters outside the courthouse that “it’s a relief,” adding that he feels “overjoyed” and “blessed.”

“We couldn’t have done it without faith,” he said.

Tweet This: “We couldn’t have done it without faith” - pro-life advocate Mark Houck, after being acquitted on federal harassment charges

Peter Breen, Thomas More Society executive vice president and head of litigation, told reporters that the Department of Justice’s prosecution of Houck was “abusive” and added that the FBI raid on the Houck family home back in September was “absolutely outrageous.”

Breen said that he hopes the U.S. Congress will ask Houck and his family to testify to the suffering that they went through at the hands of the Justice Department.

Following Breen’s comment, Houck said: “We’ll be there.”

The prosecutors declined to comment after the verdict.

The jury began deliberations on the case on Friday but said they were deadlocked and would not come to a decision that night. They resumed deliberations Monday, and an alternate juror took the place of one of the original jurors at about 1:30 p.m. After a brief deliberation, the jury found Houck not guilty on both counts.

McMonagle spoke briefly on the implementation of the alternate juror.

“Early this morning, we were notified that there was an issue with the jury, and one of the jurors had to be excused, who was not participating, quite frankly, in the deliberation process,” McMonagle said.

“And we quickly worked to try and bring in an alternate juror. He came in and within an hour of him getting here, there was a unanimous not guilty verdict,” he said.

Fourteen-year-old Mark Houck Jr., who testified as a witness, told CNA outside the courthouse that “it feels really great to have the not guilty verdict. I was a little nervous to be on the stand. But I feel really good after it. I just feel really good in general.”

When asked if he felt justice has been done for his father, he replied: “Not yet, but it will be.”

Mark Houck Sr. said the first thing he was going to do was to go get some ice cream with his family. He could be seen praying and thanking God with supporters outside the courthouse. In his prayer, he prayed for Bruce Love, the abortion clinic escort who made the initial allegations against Houck.

Houck, 48, of Kintnersville in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, acknowledged that he twice pushed a volunteer escort outside a Planned Parenthood facility on Oct. 13, 2021, though Houck maintained he did so because the clinic volunteer was verbally harassing Houck’s 12-year-old son.

After local authorities declined to press charges, the U.S. Department of Justice stepped in, dispatching a team of FBI agents to arrest Houck at gunpoint in front of his terrified wife and children.

The Houck family/Thomas More Society

The morning raid on Sept. 23, 2022, at the family’s home sparked outrage within pro-life circles and swift condemnation from many federal lawmakers, who blasted the FBI’s heavy-handed tactics and the Justice Department’s use of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. Though the 1993 federal law, known as the FACE Act, was written to also prosecute crimes at pro-life pregnancy facilities and places of worship, it has been used almost exclusively against pro-life activists.

Houck was charged with two counts of violating the act and possibly faced 11 years in federal prison if convicted.

Houck was doing sidewalk counseling outside the clinic at the time of the 2021 incident in connection with his work with The King’s Men, a national men’s faith formation apostolate he runs.

Much of the testimony during the three-day trial focused on whether or not Houck pushed the clinic escort, 73-year-old Bruce Love, specifically because Love was providing reproductive health services, as detailed in the FACE Act. In his testimony, Love repeatedly denied verbally provoking Houck.

The FACE Act prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.”

The verdict is a victory for pro-life advocates who rallied to Houck’s defense and a rebuke to the Biden administration’s Justice Department, which has pledged to aggressively enforce the FACE Act in the wake of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Pappert himself raised the possibility that the case should never have been brought to trial, asking the prosecution Thursday whether the federal FACE Act didn’t “seem to be stretched a little thin here.”

Following the uproar over his arrest, an online fund drive launched and has raised more than $405,000 as of Monday. Twenty-two U.S. House members and at least a dozen U.S. senators have also championed his cause.

Editor's note: This article was published by Catholic News Agency and is reprinted with permission.

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