Pro-life advocate Mark Houck has moved to dismiss the federal charges filed against him after he was arrested at his home in a dawn raid by armed FBI agents in front of wife and children, accusing the Justice Department of targeting him based on his abortion opposition.
The motion filed by Thomas More Society attorneys in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania alleges that the Biden administration engaged in “viewpoint discrimination and selective prosecution” based on Mr. Houck’s pro-life views.
“The DOJ has demonstrated clear and illegal hostility to the pro-life viewpoint in its statements and enforcement decisions, running roughshod over fundamental religious freedoms, free speech rights, and bringing an illegal selective prosecution here,” said the motion filed Monday.
Mr. Houck, 48, was charged in September with two counts of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances [FACE] Act during an October 2021 incident in Philadelphia, although local authorities declined to pursue the case and a judge dropped a complaint.
The Justice Department has charged 26 pro-life activists, including Mr. Houck, with FACE Act violations this year.
But it has yet to announce any prosecutions in the 150 attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers, offices and churches since the Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was prematurely released May 2.
The attacks, which include graffiti, vandalism, arson and at least three firebombings, also violate the FACE Act.
“The Department of Justice has demonstrated clear and illegal hostility to the pro-life viewpoint in its statements and enforcement decisions, running roughshod over fundamental religious freedoms and free speech rights, and bringing an illegal selective prosecution here,” said Peter Breen, Thomas More vice president and senior counsel, in a Wednesday statement.
Last year, four people were charged with FACE Act violations, while one was charged in 2020, two in 2019, one in 2018, and nine between 2011 and 2017, according to the filing.
The FBI has said that it continues to investigate threats and attacks on pro-life facilities and churches. The radical pro-choice group Jane’s Revenge has claimed responsibility for some of the attacks.
Mr. Houck, president of the Catholic nonprofit group the King’s Men, was accused of shoving a volunteer escort as he and his 12-year-old son engaged in sidewalk counseling outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia.
The motion argued that the Planned Parenthood escort, Bruce Love, initiated the confrontation by trying to obstruct Mr. Houck from speaking to two women in front of a pro-life resource center located about 100 feet from the clinic.
In the second incident, attorneys said that Mr. Love left his post at the clinic and accosted Mr. Houck and his son, who were standing about 50 feet from the entrance. Mr. Houck told the escort to “stay away from my son” and allegedly shoved Mr. Love to the ground.
After the Justice Department sent Mr. Houck a target letter in April, he offered through his attorney to turn himself in.
“Despite this good faith request, on September 23, 2022, dozens of heavily armed state police and federal agents descended on Mr. Houck’s home and took him into custody,” the motion said.
“Mr. Houck’s wife and children were traumatized by this unnecessary show of force,” it added.
The FBI Philadelphia office said afterward there were “inaccurate claims being made regarding the arrest of Mark Houck,” saying that agents knocked on the door, identified themselves, and took him into custody without incident.
No SWAT teams were involved.
“While it’s the FBI’s standard practice not to discuss such operational specifics, we can say that the number of personnel and vehicles widely reported as being on scene Friday is an overstatement, and the tactics used by FBI personnel were professional, in line with standard practices, and intended to ensure the safety of everyone present in and outside the residence,” said the FBI Philadelphia in a Sept. 27 statement.
Since the leak of the then-pending abortion decision, 98 Catholic churches and 77 pro-life facilities have been attacked, according to the CatholicVote tracker.