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The Ugly Face of the FACE Act

Recently, a woman named Paula "Paulette" Harlow, 75, was arrested and sentenced to two years of incarceration under the FACE Act for blocking the entrance to an abortion clinic. The law, Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, is designed to ensure that individuals seeking what is termed as "reproductive health services" can do so without obstruction or intimidation. However, it is important to note that these services often involve abortion, which many argue is not about reproductive health but about terminating the product of reproduction.

Paulette, who is in very poor health, faces a severe punishment that many believe is disproportionate to her actions. Her husband, deeply concerned for her well-being, offered to serve her sentence alongside her, but the judge refused. In a shocking display of insensitivity, the judge mocked her Catholic faith by suggesting she should make every effort to stay alive due to her Christian tenets.

Across the country, we have witnessed numerous instances where protesters have blocked freeways, streets, and even access to college campuses, preventing individuals from attending classes and going about their daily lives. These actions, often disruptive and sometimes dangerous, seem to go largely unpunished. The inconsistency in the application of laws concerning protests is troubling and calls for a critical examination.

Even more disturbing is the lack of effort to identify and apprehend those responsible for firebombing pro-life health centers, which provide vital assistance to pregnant women, including MRI services, food, and other essential support for mothers in need.

Blocking traffic on major freeways can endanger lives by delaying emergency services, disrupting commerce, and causing significant inconvenience to everyday citizens. I experienced this firsthand during the Black Lives Matter protests. While trying to deliver essential medicine to an elderly woman, I found the roads blocked off by protesters. This forced me to find an alternate route, causing a delay that could have had serious consequences for her health. Such incidents highlight the urgent need for consistent enforcement of laws to ensure public safety and access.

Similarly, preventing students from attending classes disrupts educational pursuits and infringes on their right to learn in a safe and uninterrupted environment. Yet, the lack of legal consequences for these protesters stands in stark contrast to the swift action taken under the FACE Act.

Since President Joe Biden took office, prosecutions under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act have increased significantly. While the law was intended to safeguard individuals on both sides of the abortion debate, the Department of Justice has mainly pursued charges against abortion opponents in nearly every instance where the FACE Act has been applied.

This discrepancy suggests a selective enforcement of laws that undermines the principle of equal justice. The right to protest is a fundamental aspect of our democracy, protected under the First Amendment. However, this right comes with responsibilities and limits, especially when it infringes on the rights of others.

We must advocate for the consistent application of laws that govern protests. If blocking the entrance to an abortion clinic warrants arrest under the FACE Act, then obstructing highways, streets, and access to educational institutions should be met with similar legal consequences. Such consistency would not only uphold the rule of law but also reinforce the principle that no group is above the law.

Law enforcement agencies and policymakers must ensure that all individuals, regardless of their cause, are held accountable when their actions cross the line from peaceful protest to illegal obstruction. This would demonstrate a commitment to fairness and equality, reinforcing that all citizens are subject to the same legal standards.

Moreover, addressing this disparity would foster greater respect for the law and reduce the potential for conflict and division. It would signal to all protesters that while their right to voice their opinions is protected, it must be exercised in a manner that respects the rights and safety of others.

It is imperative that we call for equal enforcement of protest laws. By doing so, we can uphold the rule of law, ensure fairness, and protect the rights of all individuals to move freely and safely in our society.

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