Bucks County pro-life activist Mark Houck was acquitted of all charges by a jury in federal court in Philadelphia on Monday afternoon.
Houck, 48, had been charged with violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act for incidents on Oct. 13, 2021, where he pushed a volunteer escort at a Planned Parenthood clinic on Locust Street in Philadelphia. The escort, who had been confronting Houck’s 12-year-old son, Mark Jr., was not seriously injured. Philadelphia courts declined to prosecute Houck, but after Roe v. Wade was overturned about a year later, the U.S. Department of Justice brought charges.
“We are, of course, thrilled with the outcome,” said Peter Breen, Thomas More Society executive vice president and head of litigation who helped represent the Bucks County father of seven. “Mark and his family are now free of the cloud that the Biden administration threw upon them. We took on Goliath – the full might of the United States government – and won.”
Houck had faced up to 11 years in prison if convicted.
After the verdict, Houck thanked his family and supporters “all over the world,” including the financial support that he received.
“How do you not feel the blessing of that?” he asked. And he thanked the lawyers from the Thomas More Society, along with local defense attorney Brian McMonagle
The circumstances of the case raised questions about possible political motives behind the Biden administration’s decision to prosecute. The judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Gerald Pappert, asked during the trial if the FACE Act wasn’t “being stretched a little thin here.”
The prosecutors declined to comment after the verdict.
Before the trial began, Breen noted the federal government’s decision to swarm Houck’s home and make a high-profile arrest rather than send notice that he needed to turn himself in.
“Think about that. Twenty-five FBI agents go to his home as if he were somehow a danger,” said Breen, who added the lawyers had offered to bring Houck in “at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer.”
“It’s clear that intimidation is one of the tactics being used by the federal government,” said Breen. “And I can tell you that I received calls from sidewalk counselors that were intimidated. They’re wondering, ‘Am I going to be next?’”
Christine Flowers, a Philadelphia pro-life commentator and an attorney, shared those concerns.
“While Houck’s attorneys deserve a great deal of praise for their exceptional advocacy, I think the most important takeaway from this victory is that Americans can detect when a prosecution is being waged for political reasons and not because there is a legitimate cause of action. The Biden administration has been sent a very clear message: stop trying to crush the pro-life movement under the guise of protecting women’s access to healthcare,” said Flowers.
“As a lawyer, I am always deeply gratified when I see the justice system work as it was designed to work: Protect the innocent and convict the guilty. With the acquittal of Mark Houck, it is clear that the jurors who heard this case understood that essential principle.”
The Biden Justice Department has brought several FACE Act cases against pro-life activists. But now under scrutiny by the Republican U.S. House of Representatives, it recently charged two pro-choice activists for allegedly vandalizing pro-life pregnancy centers.
In dramatic testimony on Friday, Houck, a Catholic, said clinic escort Bruce Love had cursed at him and his son and baited him with remarks about pedophile priests and masturbation.
Mark Jr., now 14, testified Love stood within feet of him and told him that his father was “a bad person.”
Houck, who runs a pro-life ministry called The King’s Men, spends several hours every week in front of that clinic doing sidewalk counseling to deter women from having abortions. He testified that he had been doing this for years, knew the rules, and never blocked a clinic entrance.
During his closing argument, defense attorney Brian McMonagle argued the case was about Houck’s First Amendment rights to free speech, religion, and assembly.
Many supporters had packed the courtroom in the trial before Judge Gerald Pappert. Several held rosaries as they listened intently to testimony and arguments in the case. They also held prayerful protests outside the courthouse and outside the U.S. Attorney’s Office. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
Pastor William Devlin, a fellow pro-life activist and Houck’s friend, led supporters in prayer and singing for Houck, and spoke at the protests.
Devlin said he believed God heard their prayers.
“We thank God that Mark has been exonerated,” said Devlin. “That the jury understood the decision and Mark Houck was found not guilty. It was the result of persistent prayer and worship and we thank Jesus for allowing the not guilty verdict.”
Breen said, “This is a win for Mark and the entire pro-life movement. The Biden Department of Justice’s intimidation against pro-life people and people of faith has been put in its place.”