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Bucks County Pro-Life Activist Acquitted of Federal Charges

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.”


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Deadlocked Jury in Trial for Bucks County Pro-Life Activist to Return Monday

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.

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Trial for Bucks County Pro-Life Advocate to Begin Tuesday

The trial for Mark Houck, the Bucks County pro-life advocate charged with violating the FACE Act for an altercation with an abortion clinic escort, is set to begin at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia on Jan. 24.

The case has national implications as to whether an escort can be considered an abortion provider under the law. Houck, who was arrested by a small army of FBI agents and other law enforcement as his wife and frightened children watched, has become a cause celeb for the pro-life movement.

One of Houck’s lawyers, Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society, said the government is pressing the wrong charges. And although Judge Gerard Pappert, a Republican who had formerly served as the state attorney general, denied a motion to dismiss, Breen was heartened by the judge’s remarks in that decision.

Mark and Ryan-Marie Houck and their children

“The judge recognized in his order that the altercation was about literature and that’s not a FACE violation,” said Breen.  (FACE is the “Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances” Act.) Houck, who leads a Catholic men’s ministry, had gone back toward the clinic to retrieve some of the brochures he had been handing out that were in a trash can when he was confronted by the escort.

The escort, Bruce Love, was also “harassing” Houck’s then 12-year-old son.

“If two people have an argument over harassment of (one’s) son or positioning on the sidewalk, that sort of thing is clearly not a violation of the FACE Act,” said Breen.

The FACE Act or Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act does not include volunteer escorts, Breen said.

“We vigorously dispute the allegations,” said Breen. “It’s not a violation unless the person is somehow impacting the abortion process. And that’s not the case here, very clearly.”

During pretrial litigation, Houck’s team showed evidence that Congress did not intend to include volunteer escorts when the FACE Act was written. They quoted the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) who said, “Demonstrators, clinic defenders, escorts, and other persons not involved in obtaining or providing services in the facility may not bring such a cause of action (under FACE).”

City police and the district attorney previously declined to file charges against Houck. A private legal action filed by the pro-abortion activist was dismissed.

“What we’ve contended is the description in the indictment is 180 degrees from the real facts of the case,” said Breen. Houck did not approach the escort. Rather, “Love made a beeline to intercept and interfere with Mark,” said Breen.

The indictment states that on Oct. 31, 2021, at the Planned Parenthood Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center on Locust Street in Philadelphia, Houck “by force, intentionally injured, intimidated and interfered” with Bruce Love. And also, Houck “verbally confronted B.L. and forcefully shoved B.L. to the ground.”

“The government has no video, no pictures, no audio of (the incident),” Breen said.

Although the indictment claims there were two witnesses, the government has not told the defense who those people were.

Asked whether the Houck case is part of the Biden administration’s desire to promote abortion and clamp down on pro-life activity, Breen said, “Well, we are now up to almost 200 pro-life centers or churches vandalized or otherwise damaged. Instead of charging the people that did those things, you had over 20 pro-life activists charged under FACE. Our question to the administration is, when are you going to protect pro-life citizens because the charges under FACE so far have been against peaceful individuals?”

And, “the allegation against Mark is the first, as far as we know, the first and only prosecution of a pro-life sidewalk counselor for what he is alleged to do against an abortion escort.” So this is, to some extent, a test case for the Biden Department of Justice. We believe if they were to prevail, they would try to take this legal theory to other parts of the country.”

“That’s why it’s an extremely important case,” said Breen. “Folks across the country are watching it. There were no patients involved. No clinic staff.  As far as we know, that’s never been the subject of criminal prosecution by the government.”

Houck, 49, was released on his own recognizance the same day as his arrest at his Kintersville home.

“Think about that. Twenty-five FBI agents go to his home as if he were somehow a danger,” said Breen, who noted the lawyers had offered to bring him 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?’”

Pro-life activists plan a rally to support Houck outside the courthouse at 601 Market Street at 11 a.m. on Jan. 24.  A previous rally attracted dozens of supporters.

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