House Republicans accused the Biden administration May 16 of a "double standard" on the enforcement of a federal law crafted to protect access to reproductive health facilities.
Congress and then-President Bill Clinton enacted the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act, in 1994. The Justice Department's website states the law "prohibits threats of force, obstruction and property damage intended to interfere with reproductive health care services, or other federal criminal statutes where arson, firearms, and threats were also used."
But the Justice Department adds that the FACE Act "is not about abortions."
"The statute protects all patients, providers, and facilities that provide reproductive health services, including pro-life pregnancy counseling services and any other pregnancy support facility providing reproductive health care," the website states.
But at a hearing of a House Judiciary subcommittee May 16 and at a press conference that followed, House Republicans claimed the Biden administration is not pursuing charges against those who vandalize pro-life facilities.
Republicans on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government argued during the hearing there has been an uptick in such instances following the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision last June. The decision overturned Roe v. Wade and related precedent that had made abortion access a constitutional right.
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., the subcommittee's chairman, told reporters that "the statute protects pro-life pregnancy counseling services, and other pregnancy support facilities providing reproductive health care."
"At least that's what the law is intended," Johnson said. "But in actual practice that is not what is happening under the misguided leadership of Attorney General Merrick Garland. The FACE Act has been stripped of its intent, and used as a tool to both simultaneously prosecute pro-life individuals and insulate those who carry out attacks on pro-life advocates and facilities."
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus and a longtime Catholic lawmaker, said, "We need to ensure the safety and security of the estimated 3,000 pregnancy care centers that provide life affirming alternatives to abortion, offering critical quality care for pregnant women facing challenging circumstances and helping to save so many innocent lives."
Asked about some reports indicating abortion clinics also have seen more instances of vandalism or other violence, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said, "If this were all being enforced equally, right, if there's violence being levied against an abortion facility, we would agree that that shouldn't be occurring under the law."
"But what you see out of the Department of Justice is selective enforcement," Roy added.
One such instance of vandalism occurred at a crisis pregnancy center less than a mile from the U.S. Capitol itself. Janet Durig, director of the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center, told reporters at the press conference that in June, "JANE SAYS" and "REVENGE" were spray-painted onto the building.
"We were fearful for our clients, but we were also fearful for the building," Durig said. "We were able to clean up the damage of the red paint 'Jane's Revenge' that was on the building. ... But the point is that that fear is still there for us to wonder about and other pregnancy centers throughout the country."
During the hearing, Democratic lawmakers argued that abortion clinics have seen an increase in vandalism and other threats post-Dobbs. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., argued that “the overwhelming majority of such violence, threats and intimidation has been and continues to be directed against abortion providers and patients," Scanlon said.
In questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee March 1, the attorney general told lawmakers the Justice Department has carried out more FACE Act prosecutions of pro-life activists than pro-abortion activists because the crimes and times of day they occur are different. Pro-life activists have been arrested for blocking abortion clinic access during daytime hours, whereas pro-abortion activists "are attacking the pregnancy resource centers ... at night."
Garland said the Justice Department and FBI have "full resources on this," including rewards, and are working with "Catholic and other organizations to ask for their help in identifying the people who are doing this."
"We will prosecute every case against a pregnancy resource center that we can make," he said.
In January, the Justice Department announced FACE Act indictments of two Florida residents who had threatened and vandalized pregnancy resource facilities in the state. In March, the police in Amherst, New York, with FBI assistance, arrested a vandal of a pro-life health clinic. That same month, the FBI apprehended a man in connection to the firebombing of Wisconsin Family Action's office, after matching his DNA from the crime scene to a partially eaten burrito.