Updated April 8, 2022, at 7:30 a.m. PT.
On Oct. 22, 2020, a group of anti-abortion extremists hailing from six different states and armed with a chain and rope concealed in a duffle bag forcefully pushed through the doors of the Washington Surgi-Clinic, a reproductive healthcare facility in Washington, D.C. Using furniture, they barricaded the door to the treatment area and chained themselves to each other in order to shut down clinic operations; they also injured a nurse during the course of the invasion while terrorizing staff and patients for well over an hour.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced last week criminal indictments against the nine anti-abortion extremists associated with this obstruction and violent invasion, charging them with violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. Several of the individuals indicted have orchestrated invasions across the country since 2017, and many have worked together to invade dozens of clinics over the last five years. The indictment names Lauren Handy, 28; Jonathan Darnel, 40; Jay Smith, 32; Paulette Harlow, 73; Jean Marshall, 72; John Hinshaw, 67; Heather Idoni, 61; William Goodman, 52; and Joan Andrews Bell, 74. They all face up to a maximum of 11 years in prison.
“These invasions are designed to intimidate and terrorize patients and providers,” said duVergne Gaines, director of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Clinic Access Project. “This criminal indictment is hopefully a turning point and will send a clear message that these extremists can no longer operate with impunity. We hope there will be many more prosecutions forthcoming.”
Handy, one of the leaders of this invasion, was schooled in this brand of extremism through her work with the Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, founded by Jeff White—another central figure in the violent wing of the anti-abortion movement. (White is currently serving a six-year federal sentence for defrauding health insurance companies through state Affordable Care Act exchanges and a multimillion-dollar kickback scheme involving drug rehabilitation centers.)
These invasions are designed to intimidate and terrorize patients and providers. This criminal indictment is hopefully a turning point and will send a clear message that these extremists can no longer operate with impunity.duVergne Gaines, National Clinic Access Project director
Days before the October 2020 invasion at the heart of the indictment, Handy called the Washington Surgi-Clinic pretending to be a woman named “Hazel Jenkins” seeking reproductive healthcare, and scheduled an appointment for the morning of Oct. 22. Those listed in the indictment, seven of whom traveled from out of state, met Handy at the clinic for her fraudulent appointment. Minutes later, they “forcefully backed into the clinic,” shoving a nurse in the process, who sprained her ankle. At the direction of Handy, the extremists used their bodies, clinic furniture, chains and ropes to blockade all clinic doors, including the employee entrance, preventing anyone from entering or exiting the building. Calling themselves “rescuers,” they shouted inflammatory language—all the while, using Facebook to livestream their actions.
Shortly after the group’s arrest, Handy faces another likely round of criminal violations after it was revealed in a news conference she was harboring fetal remains in her home. “It appears many more laws may have been broken by these extremists with this discovery,” said Gaines, “and yet this tactic is not new. Not only does this distract from the criminal actions undertaken by this group, but also this propaganda stunt could incite further violence.”
Handy also has lived with and was mentored by fellow co-conspirator Joan Andrews Bell, another central figure in the radical anti-abortion movement with dozens of arrests for obstructing and invading reproductive healthcare clinics. Bell is associated with the Army of God, the violent wing of the anti-abortion movement in the U.S. Bell employed James Charles Kopp, for example, who was convicted in 2003 for the 1998 murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian, a physician and abortion provider, in his home. Kopp is also suspected in multiple other attempted murders.
Another tactic employed by anti-abortion groups, including the one listed in last week’s DOJ indictment, is to livestream invasions, blockades and other threatening acts targeting reproductive healthcare providers in an effort to garner more followers. Gaines said California broke new ground last year, passing a new law that prohibits filming or digitally recording outside of reproductive healthcare facilities with the intent to intimidate: “Hopefully more states will pursue this kind of progressive legislation to protect providers and patient communities.”
Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.