Federal Prosecutors Fight to Have Abortion Clinic Protections Upheld
The Assistant US Attorney General argued before the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals to have the verdict of a lower court overruled in order to protect the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE). The FACE Act prohibits not only violence against abortion providers, clinic staff, patients, and volunteers, but also threats of violence. Last year, US District Court Judge Kenneth Hoyt ruled that the federal FACE Act was unconstitutional because it went beyond Congress's constitutional duty to regulate interstate commerce. Six Circuit Courts of Appeals have already ruled the FACE Act is constitutional. In doing so, Judge Hoyt dismissed charges against Frank Bird, who allegedly crashed a van through the doors of the Houston Planned Parenthood Clinic in March of 2003.
Judge Hoyt based his ruling on a 2000 US Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Violence Against Women Act that found that Congress had no authority to "regulate non-economic, violent criminal conduct based solely on that conduct's aggregate effect on interstate commerce." Birdís public defender, Brent Newton, maintained that this case is not about abortion rights, but rather about state rights, reports Kaisernetwork.org.
Assistant US Attorney General Peter Keisler argued that such violence does indeed affect an interstate marketóthat of providing abortions and resources for womenís reproductive health, according to the Associated Press. A third-party brief filed by Legal Momentum, formerly the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, concurred, stating that a local attack in one state can intimidate abortion providers all across the country, dissuading them from offering abortions, or leading them to allocate more funds to the security of their clinic, the Associated Press reports.
Keisler also cited several prior court rulings which set a precedent for Congress to regulate local activities if they have a larger national effect. One of the cases actually involved a prior attack by Bird, when he had been convicted of throwing a bottle at the windshield of a doctor who worked at another clinic. For that crime, the Associated Press reports that Bird served a year in a federal prison and paid $820.67 in restitution.
The court did not indicate when it would issue a ruling.