Mark Houck, 48, was acquitted yesterday in a high-profile prosecution by the Biden Administration under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. Houck was accused of pushing a Planned Parenthood escort during a clash outside an abortion clinic. It is a rare victory for Houck and the Thomas More Society (which represented Houck) under the act. Houck insisted that he was trying to protect his twelve-year-old son in the encounters with Love. There is also an interesting wrinkle in the jury deliberations.
The FACE Act prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.”
The Biden Administration alleged that Houck “forcefully shoved” Bruce Love, a 72-year-old volunteer at a Philadelphia Planned Parenthood on Oct. 13, 2021. The trial explored two different encounters with Love.
In the first encounter, Houck was across the street on a sidewalk counseling two women who had left the Planned Parenthood clinic. Love followed the women. The Justice Department says that Houck elbowed Love because he was a clinic escort. Houck testified that Love startled him and made contact with him, causing him to say “What are you doing?” and hip-check him out of reflex.
Houck testified that he told Love to “Stay away from my son” and “Don’t come near us” when Love approached them on the sidewalk after the first incident.
His son, Houck Jr. also testified and said that Love stood close to him as he taunted his father saying “You’re hurting women. You don’t care about women.” He then said Love said the same to him and added “Your dad’s a bad person. Your dad’s harassing women.” He said that he moved away from Love out of fear.
It was a highly contested account, but the Biden Administration decided to prosecute and later went to Houck’s home to arrest him. The arrest drew criticism after a large number of FBI agents descended on the home.
What was interesting is that the jury previously declared itself deadlocked and was sent home on Friday. However, a juror was then reportedly replaced by an alternate juror on Monday afternoon. They then quickly reached an acquittal. It is not clear if the deadlock was due to that one juror, but a consensus that formed during that day.
It is not uncommon for jurors to overcome a deadlock, particularly after an Allen charge. Named after the United States Supreme Court case Allen v. United States (1896) where it was first used, it is called the “dynamite charge” to break deadlocks. It is unpopular with most defense attorneys because it encourages the majority to work to convince the minority — often breaking down the resistance of holdouts.
It is not clear if the jury simply overcame its divisions after a weekend break or whether the replaced juror was a holdout.
The acquittal in a FACE Act case is relatively rare given the “cut-and-dry” language of the law.
We recently discussed an English case that showed its own efforts against pro-life protesters when a woman was arrested for praying near a clinic.