Vandalized pregnancy centers cry for justice one year after Dobbs leak

Vandalized pregnancy centers cry for justice one year after Dobbs leak (Washington Examiner)

(Washington Examiner) On the morning of May 9, 2022, Becky Sheetz, the CEO of Life First Pregnancy Center in Manassas, Virginia, didn't initially see the chilling message that has rattled her ever since.

Seven days prior, a political earthquake had occurred when a draft Supreme Court opinion for the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case was leaked to Politico. Justice Samuel Alito 's opinion presaged a monumental moment in the history of the court: the reversal of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey and an end to a constitutional right to abortion.

For Sheetz, the leak changed nothing about her center's work of offering services to pregnant women, including ultrasounds, medical consultations, parenting classes, and supplies such as diapers.

But as she settled into her office on that Monday morning one year ago, Sheetz was informed by the center's director that the building had been vandalized by graffiti that read "Abortion is a right" and "fake clinic" and branded the center staff as "liars."

"[At first] I thought she was joking," Sheetz told the Washington Examiner in an interview. "There's no way. Like, that's impossible because, first of all, I walked into the building this morning. I think I would have noticed it."

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Life First Pregnancy Center via Washington Examiner

The reason the center's CEO did not see the vandalism, she said, was because it occurred on the back side of the building in a poorly lit area where there were no security cameras. To date, no one has been arrested for the crime.

About 30 miles northwest of Manassas, on the morning of June 3, 2022, Janet Durig didn't miss the red paint thrown on the front door of Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center when she went to work that morning. The enigmatic group Jane's Revenge took credit for the vandalism, painting their moniker on the side of the building, a building just blocks from the Supreme Court, which was still dealing with the fallout of the leak.

Durig told the Washington Examiner that the vandalism required the center, which feared more attacks, to hire guards and spend money on a stronger security system. To date, as no one has been arrested for the crime, Durig does not understand what would motivate someone to attack a place like Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center.

"All we're doing is helping someone who wants to have a child, and we also help people who have already had children," Durig said. "We're helping them because they need a car seat or they need a bed for their baby to sleep in or they need baby clothes."

The attacks against Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center and Life First Pregnancy Center were part of a series of acts of vandalism perpetrated in the wake of the Dobbs leak against crisis pregnancy centers, which offer pregnant women support and care opportunities instead of abortion.

The political advocacy organization CatholicVote says it has tracked 84 attacks against pregnancy centers and anti-abortion organizations since the Dobbs draft was leaked. While the vast majority of the incidents have involved graffiti, some, like the June 25, 2022, incident at Life Choices in Longmont, Colorado, involved an act of arson.

The Colorado-based center was firebombed in the early hours of June 25, the day after the Supreme Court released its decision in the Dobbs case. The damage was so severe that the center had to use alternative facilities for a yearlong renovation.


Longmont Public Safety via CNA

"Our staff grieved a loss of this ministry that now had to stop what they were doing," Kathy Roberts, the director of Life Choices, told the Washington Examiner. "Some [were] a little fearful that somebody could actually do something like this, and then there's the fact that you leave work one day, and the next day you don't have a place to go to."

Roberts said she received an outpouring of support from all over the country and that local law enforcement has worked diligently in investigating the case. Meanwhile, a notable difference between the fire at Life Choices and the graffiti vandalism at the Manassas and Washington, D.C., centers is the involvement of FBI investigators.

Roberts said within hours of the fire, the FBI took on the case, but despite their involvement, 10 months after the fire, no one has been arrested for the crime.

In January, the FBI offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of people responsible for "attacks and threats targeting reproductive health service facilities," which is a violation of the Free Access to Clinic Entrances, or FACE, Act. But Durig and Sheetz say they have not been contacted once by federal law enforcement.

The FACE Act has been used on several recent occasions to prosecute anti-abortion demonstrators, including Mark Houck, a Pennsylvania man who was quickly acquitted by a federal jury of charges he violated the law when he pushed a volunteer at a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Philadelphia who was verbally harassing his son.


Thomas More Society

To date, the Department of Justice has only charged four people in Florida under the FACE Act since the leak for attacking pregnancy centers. The Houck prosecution, meanwhile, is one of more than two dozen prosecutions against anti-abortion activists. Such prosecutions included that of Houck, as well as Fidelis Moscinski, a Franciscan priest who chained himself to the gate of a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in New York last year and was convicted of violating the FACE Act in January.

In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Brian Burch, the president of Catholic Vote, said the DOJ had placed a "disproportionate focus" on anti-abortion groups when prosecuting violations of the FACE Act, which he noted also protects churches.

"It is a direct result of woke ideologues running the Department of Justice and applying the law in an unfair and unequal manner to punish their political opponents," Burch said. "The sheer number of attacks combined with the minimal efforts to pursue these criminals speaks for itself."

The breadth of prosecutions against anti-abortion demonstrators like Houck and Moscinski, combined with the dearth of charges filed against pregnancy center vandals, has been a featured topic at congressional hearings, with Republican lawmakers repeatedly grilling Attorney General Merrick Garland and accusing him of weaponizing the DOJ against the political opponents of the Democratic Party.

"It's absolutely clear that the DOJ is nothing now but a political arm of the Democrat Party," Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) told the Washington Examiner in an interview. "Merrick Garland is the worst attorney general in American history. He should have resigned a long time ago, and if the president had any decency, he'd remove him.

Tweet This: The #of prosecutions of pro-life demonstrators versus those against pregnancy center vandals has netted accusations of weaponized government

The outspoken Republican said Congress needed to pass legislation that stiffened the punishment for acts of violence made against churches and pregnancy centers.

"This Department of Justice is only interested in using the [FACE Act] to try and silence legal pro-life demonstrations, legal constitutionally protected pro-life speech, and then turning a blind eye to actual violence," Hawley said. "We're talking about violent attacks on pro-life centers, doctors, and those who work there, and this Justice Department just shrugs their shoulders.

The Missouri senator said he wants to see the criminal penalty for attacking a pregnancy center increased to a felony with a harsher minimum prison sentence for anyone who commits arson.

"We got to get tough," Hawley said.

The DOJ and the FBI did not respond to a request for comment.

Editor's note: This article was published by the Washington Examiner and is reprinted with permission.

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