On September 23, 2022, pro-life activist Mark Houck and his family were awakened by armed federal agents banging on the door of their house. They were there to arrest Houck on a questionable case related to an incident outside a Philadelphia abortion clinic.
Now, Houck is trying to send the federal government a message. He is suing the Department of Justice for selective prosecution.
Houck, a Bucks County pro-life activist, was acquitted by a jury of violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act earlier this year. He is suing the Biden administration for $1.1 million. His wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, is also suing for $3.25 million for herself and their seven children. The claim says they have suffered stress-related health problems.
Houck is challenging U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks) in the GOP primary, and he is using his experience with what he says is an overreaching federal government as a central part of his campaign.
The FBI’s treatment of Houck has raised disturbing questions about a Department of Justice already widely viewed to be politically motivated.
Although Houck’s criminal defense lawyer had offered to turn him in if a grand jury indicted him, around 20 FBI agents and other officers raided his house with guns drawn in the early morning of Sept. 23, 2022. They carried rifles and battering rams and wore armored vests, helmets, and shields.
Although Houck, who had been making breakfast in his pajamas, came out on the porch of his Kintnerville home with his hands up, surrendering peacefully, agents kept guns pointed at him and then his wife, who came out to see what was going on. The children followed and stood on the inside stairs, crying and screaming in terror.
“The entire family was located directly downrange,” the court filing noted. “This egregious show of force was both unnecessary and unlawful. Mr. Houck is a peaceful man who is innocent of the non-violent federal charges against him…(He) had no firearms of any kind in the house or on his property and had none registered.”
The FBI handcuffed and shackled Houck and kept him incommunicado chained to a desk for six hours before he was released on his own recognizance. The filing said the FBI deprived Houck of his Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force. The claim cited the bureau’s “tortious conduct, its faulty investigation leading to malicious and retaliatory prosecution, and its egregious and excessive force.”
Houck has been a pro-life sidewalk counselor for decades and is not a protester, as authorities claimed. His interactions with a Planned Parenthood volunteer were to protect his 12-year-old son, whom the volunteer was heckling, the claim said. Houck shoved the volunteer away from his son, and the man fell but was not seriously injured. Local authorities did not prosecute Houck.
The DOJ’s website shows 20 prosecutions of pro-life defendants and one of a pro-choice defendant. Although the U.S. Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protects crisis pregnancy centers, the head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, Kristen Clarke, said in her prior position that crisis pregnancy centers were “fake clinics,” the filing said.
Her superior, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, also attacked crisis pregnancy centers and, in 2020, criticized a judicial nominee for serving as president and legal counsel for one. After the Dobbs decision that overturned R0e vs. Wade, she formed a Reproductive Rights Task Force. Two months later, the FBI arrested Houck.
“We’re the face of the weaponization of the government, right?” Houck told DVJournal. “Because it is absurd they would not take the offer to come in (to be arrested). Instead, authorities wanted to “terrorize American citizens and violate their constitutional rights. It’s just off the rails, for sure.”
The filing claims the FBI and federal prosecutor misled the grand jury to obtain an indictment against Houck. Press releases that damage Houck’s reputation remain on the DOJ’s website, the filing noted.
Although Fitzpatrick is a former FBI agent, Houck told DVJournal that is not why he is running against the incumbent Republican. He believes Fitzpatrick, who has backed some pro-life legislation, is not a reliable pro-life vote. And, “probably the most important thing for the district is all the taxpayer money that he uses to fund proxy wars and to fund the Democratic Biden administration agenda,” a reference to Ukraine’s war against Russian invaders.
Fitzpatrick is a co-chair of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus.
“[Fitzpatrick] prides himself that he’s across the aisle, and look, he votes with them most of the time,” said Houck. “He’s got a 17 percent rating from the John Birch Society for not voting with the Constitution… He’s more aligned with the Democrats than the Republicans, for sure.”
Houck has been attending various events in the district, meeting people, and listening to their concerns. He said they all want to hear the story of his arrest and trial. He also continues his mission of sidewalk counseling for pregnant women.
“I’ve been there every Wednesday since I was acquitted,” said Houck, who received a Hero Award from Catholic Voter in November.
Houck has raised nearly $100,000 so far and says he will need at least $500,000 to compete with Fitzpatrick in the April 23 primary. Houck said Fitzpatrick has a nearly $3 million war chest but will need to save some of it for the general election if he wins the primary.
The DOJ declined to comment on the litigation that was filed by Kansas City firm Graves Garrett.