Senate Republicans are slamming the recent arrest of pro-life advocate Mark Houck on bogus charges that he assaulted an abortion activist outside a Philadelphia abortion business.
The letter from Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa and 11 other senators to Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray slams them for the bombastic raid arresting Houck when he offered to turn himself in months ago.
The Senate letter says Houck’s lawyer said he was willing to cooperate in the investigation, and then, last week, as many as 20 FBI agents surrounded Houck’s home “wearing armor plated tactical vests, ballistic helmets and holding ballistic shields and long guns.”
The senators are demanding to know why DOJ took such a heavy hand with Houck, and whether it reflects a political bias within the department.
“This extraordinary fact pattern requires additional information from the Justice Department and the FBI relating to why Mr. Houck was not allowed to self-report for his arrest and arraignment and whether political considerations were made to approve and execute the search warrant,” they wrote.
They also asked why it took so long for the DOJ to indict Houck, a list of officials who approved the investigation and the arrest, how many officials were involved.
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With the help of pro-life attorneys during an appearance in federal court, Houck pleaded not guilty in Pennsylvania federal court to violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which makes it a federal crime to use force with the intent to injure, intimidate and interfere with anyone trying to access either abortion at an abortion business or medical care at a pregnancy center.
Houck’s attorney, Peter Breen, said that the case already made its way through the state court process and was thrown out, but the Biden Department of Justice took up the matter nearly a year later as a form of “political prosecution.”
“If he was truly a danger to the community, they wouldn’t have waited a year to prosecute,” Breen, VP senior counsel of the Thomas Moore Society, said outside the courthouse. “Serious questions need to be asked of the Attorney General. What was he thinking? Why did they do this obscene show of force against a peaceful pillar of the community?”
“It put officers’ lives in danger. It put the Houck family in danger. And it was an utter waste of judicial resources and taxpayer resources,” Breen said.
Breen said his team contacted the DOJ and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in June to inform them they had no case based on controlling precedent but if they decided to indict, defense would present Houck willingly in response to a summons. Breen said the next notice he received was that his client was in custody.
“This is a political prosecution,” Breen said. “And what’s clear from the Department of Justice at its highest levels which is directing this case that they are trying to send a message to pro-life and people of faith – ‘don’t mess with us.’ They want to intimidate — they want to cause good people like Mark to stop praying and counseling at the abortion clinics of our country. And that’s not going to happen.”
The U.S. government alleges that Houck assaulted and “forcefully shoved” Bruce Love, a 72-year-old volunteer at a Philadelphia Planned Parenthood.
Breen, however, categorized the abortion escort as “extremely aggressive,” saying Love was “harassing” Houck’s 12-year-old son before an “altercation ensued.”
“What in the world would possess the Department of Justice to send 20 or so heavily armed agents to this family’s home, violate the sanctity of that home, frighten the children and then drag their father away instead of allowing us to present him peacefully – which we had offered to do?” Breen said on Tuesday.
Leading members of Congress have condemned the FBI and the Justice Department for their handling of the Houck case.
On Monday, Senator Josh Hawley sent Attorney General Merrick Garland a letter demanding answers on “shocking reports” of the arrest.
Yesterday, in an appearance on Fox News, Hawley complained that pro-life advocates and conservatives are being “targeted by this administration.” He condemned the duplicity of targeting a peaceful pro-life advocate but essentially ignoring over 100 attacks on pro-life groups, pregnancy centers and churches.
“They’ll send a SWAT-style team to go after a Catholic pro-life activist. But at the same time, there are, what, 17 or more fire bombings, a pregnancy care centers that have not,” he said.
“There are two systems and one is ideological. And if you are a conservative, if you are a person of faith, then you are going to get targeted by this administration,” he added.
“I want to know who signed off on this. I want to know exactly the person or group of people. And they need to be held accountable and be held accountable, I mean, removed from office,” said Hawley. “If that is Merrick Garland, he should be removed from office. It’s time to take the gloves off here and defend the rule of law.”
Hawley concluded with a message to the FBI and DOJ.
“Preserve your documents right now. Don’t delete anything because the Republican Congress is coming, and we are going to hold you accountable.”
Fortunately, pro-life Americans have stepped up and are helping the Houck family in this battle:
More than 4,000 donations have been offered to Houck and his family, totaling $251,810 by Tuesday afternoon.
Pennsylvania pro-life activist Ashley Garecht and her husband Joe Garecht created the crowdfunding page. Notably, the couple’s daughters in 2019, then just 13 and 15 years old, were harassed by then-state Rep. Brian Sims (D) for several minutes as they prayed for unborn children outside a Pennsylvania abortion clinic.
Garecht told The Daily Wire over the weekend that Houck was protecting his son from an aggressive Planned Parenthood escort harassing the boy. She said the case was dismissed by a federal court in Philadelphia when the escort tried to press charges, but Biden’s DOJ picked it up anyway.
“Last year, Mark and his son were praying in front of the [Planned Parenthood] at 12th and Locust,” the GiveSendGo account says. “When one of the escorts began harassing Mark’s son they walked down the street away from the entrance to the building. The escort followed them, and when he continued yelling at Mark’s son, Mark pushed him away.”
The Garechts say the funds raised through the campaign “will go to help the family with any necessary expenses.”
“Your generosity is greatly appreciated,” the couple adds. “Let’s show the Houck family they are not alone, while we show Planned Parenthood and its militant pro-abortion allies that the pro-life community will not be silenced by fear and intimidation.”
Houck, a father of seven, is frequently seen sidewalk counseling in front of Philadelphia abortion businesses to help women choose pro-life alternatives.
In October 2021, Houck was involved in an incident outside a Philadelphia abortion business where a pro-abortion clinic escort had repeatedly bullied and intimidated his 12-year-old son who was with him to help sidewalk counsel and encourage women to choose pro-life alternatives. After multiple verbal assaults and the abortion activist getting into his son’s face, Houck pushed him away and he fell.
Houck, who regularly prays the rosary outside the clinic, maintains he was defending his 12-year-old son from the escort’s verbal harassment, a family spokesman, Brian Middleton, told CNA. The man fell when Houck pushed him away, Middleton said. The incident was so minor that charges were never pressed and a court ultimately dismissed a complaint the abortion activist filed.
However, Houck is now alleged to have violated the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, commonly known as FACE, outside of a Pennsylvania abortion facility.
But, new information for Houck’s attorney, Thomas More Society Vice President and Senior Counsel Peter Breen, indicates Houck agree months ago to turn himself in voluntarily.
In June 2022, Thomas More Society attorneys notified the Biden Department of Justice that the FACE Act does not cover one-on-one altercations like the one involving Houck, which was initiated by the abortion proponent who was harassing Houck’s son. The Department of Justice was also advised that if the decision was made to bring a charge against Houck despite lack of legal foundation, Houck would appear voluntarily.
“Rather than accepting Mark Houck’s offer to appear voluntarily, the Biden Department of Justice chose to make an unnecessary show of potentially deadly force, sending twenty heavily armed federal agents to the Houck residence at dawn this past Friday,” explained Breen. “In threatening form, after nearly breaking down the family’s front door, at least five agents pointed guns at Mark’s head and arrested him in front of his wife and seven young children, who were terrified that their husband and father would be shot dead before their eyes.”
“This case is being brought solely to intimidate people of faith and pro-life Americans,” stated Breen. “Mark Houck is innocent of these lawless charges, and we intend to prove that in court.”
If the DOJ pursue the charges, it will be going agaisnt court precedent. In June 2019, Thomas More Society attorneys won a case in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, establishing that an altercation outside an abortion business that is not associated with preventing someone from “obtaining or providing reproductive health services,” like the incident in which the Biden Department of Justice is levying two counts against Houck, cannot form the basis for a FACE claim.
As CNA reports, the incident at the abortion center was so minor that local charges were never filed.
When both the city police and the district attorney declined to file charges against Houck, the escort filed a private criminal complaint in Philadelphia municipal court, Middleton said. The case was dismissed in July when the man repeatedly didn’t show up in court, Middleton said.
Just days later, Houck received a “target letter” from the U.S. Attorney’s Office informing him that he was the focus of a federal criminal probe into the same incident, Middleton said.
Through his attorney at the time, Houck tried to contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office to discuss the case but never received a response, Middleton said.
“The next time they heard anything was Friday morning,” he said.
Biden’s Justice Department is now charging Houck with violating the FACE Act and Houck is now facing a maximum sentence of 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and fines of up to $350,000 for merely defending his son from being attacked.
However, Houck never blocked access to the abortion center, which is what the law is designed to stop, and the incident was nothing more than a minor scuffle.
The Houck family is now panicked about what will happen to Mark from here. A GiveSendGo has been set up to help raise funds to support them and to assist with Mark’s legal defense.
Mark Houck was taken to “the federal building in downtown Philadelphia,” his wife told the outlet.
As a result of the incident, the children were “really sad and stressed,” Ryan-Marie said. “I don’t really know what’s going to come of it when you see guns pointed at your dad and your mom in your house when you first wake up in the morning.”