After deliberating for more than two hours, jurors in the trial for pro-life activist Mark Houck were deadlocked as of late Friday afternoon. Federal Judge Gerald Pappert instructed them to return Monday and continue their work.
Houck was charged with two counts of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act nearly a year after the Oct. 13, 2021, incidents. The Bucks County resident could be sentenced to 11 years in prison if convicted.
During dramatic testimony Friday, Houck said he had been sworn at and baited by clinic escort Bruce Love. But when Love began talking to his 12-year-old son, Mark Jr., he lost his cool.
Love allegedly told Houck, “Why don’t you go home and masturbate? Go be with your pedophile priests.”
Houck, 48, runs pro-life nonprofit The King’s Men and said he was familiar with Love, a volunteer escort at the Planned Parent Elizabeth Blackwell Center on Locust Street in Philadelphia and other Planned Parent locations. Houck prays outside the clinic regularly and he does sidewalk counseling with women who come to the center, he said.
Mark Jr., has been accompanying his father to court, and then going to practice at the Philadelphia Boys Choir at 4 p.m. It takes the Houcks about two hours to drive into the city from Kintersville.
Mark Jr. testified Love ran after his father, who had approached two women who had left the center and were across the street. Houck testified that Love came up from behind and got in between him and one of the women, startling him. He said he pushed him.
Then about 45 minutes later, Love came back out and stood within a foot of Houck’s son.
“He said, ‘Your dad is a bad person,” Mark Jr. said. Houck told Love to go back to where he usually stood and not to talk to his son.
When Love continued talking to Mark Jr., Houck pushed the 72-year-old escort, who fell on the sidewalk.
After Mark Jr. stepped down from the witness stand his mother, Ryan-Marie, hugged him. Onlookers packed the courtroom, several holding rosary beads.
Houck, the father of seven children, said that in addition to his work with the nonprofit, he coached youth sports and volunteers for other nonprofits. He said he does the sidewalk counseling out of “a spirit of charity and compassion.”
When defense attorney Brian McMonagle asked if he prevented anyone from going into the abortion clinic, Houck said he had not. But he did talk to women and let them know there was a pregnancy resource center nearby where they could get the help they might need if they chose to keep their babies or put them up for adoption.
When Love started talking to Mark Jr., Houck said he intervened.
“I’m a dad,” said Houck. “I told him to stay away from my son.”
Love told Mark Jr., “’ Your dad is hurting women,’” Houck said. “I told him, ‘You don’t have permission to talk to my son’…I turned and reacted and pushed him.”
Houck was surprised when Love fell. “I pushed Mr. Love because he was harassing my 12-year-old boy.” After Love fell, Houck took his son to a nearby hoagie shop. They then went into a cathedral and prayed. Houck got a text that officers wanted to talk to him, and he went back to the clinic and gave a statement.
However, Houck was not prosecuted in state court and a judge dismissed a private complaint brought by Love. But the Biden administration still chose to make a federal case of the incident.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anita Eve cross-examined Houck, trying to get him to admit that he pushed Love because he was a clinic escort. But Houck repeated that it was because Love was bothering his son.
She accused Houck of telling escorts they will go to a “special place in hell.”
“They’re all collaborating in the evil of abortion,” Houck said, denying that he made that remark. “They’re children of God, and I pray for them.”
Under repeated questioning, Houck said he gets a $ 50-a-week stipend for gas from the Pro-Life Union of Pennsylvania for driving to the clinic from rural Bucks County. She also repeatedly asked him about his nonprofit’s webpage, which he said he posts blogs on but others, including a webmaster, also work on.
Eve pointed out that he had raised more than $400,000. Houck said that money was for his legal defense.
During his closing argument, Department of Justice civil rights trial lawyer Sanjay Patel said the government had proven its case and asked the jury to convict Houck. Houck admitted he had pushed a 72-year-old grandfather twice, said Patel. Houck is younger and larger than Love and should have known that he could hurt him. And an escort is protected under the FACE Act, Patel said. And Houck acted to prevent Love from carrying out his job as a clinic escort, Patel said.
“The government is asking you to hold Mr. Houck responsible,” said Patel. “Don’t let him hide behind his son.”
In his closing, McMonagle said that the government had not proved that Houck pushed Love because he was a clinic escort. Rather it was because Love was harassing his son and refused to stop. And, he said, during her opening, Eve said the prosecution was not political, but McMonagle asked the jury to think for themselves about why it took a year from the incident for the government to bring charges and what had happened in the U.S. during that time.
And while Patel argued that Love was going by the book, McMonagle pointed out the rule book for clinic escorts tells them not to engage with protesters. And an email from a Planned Parenthood official said Love “has been spoken to about our nonengagement policy and he continues to disregard it.”
McMonagle said the heart of the case is the First Amendment and the rights that Houck has to speak, assemble, and practice his religion.
“This case is about a parent’s love for his child,” said McMonagle. “There isn’t any greater love than that.”
He also pointed out that Love gave several versions of the events when talking to the FBI.
“If in fact at the end of the trial, you have more questions than answers, you have reasonable doubt” and must find Houck not guilty, he told the jury.