Boston, Mass., Feb 11, 2023 / 05:00 am (CNA).
When Mark Houck, pro-life advocate and Catholic father of seven, was acquitted in January of federal charges under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, he, his wife, and his kids praised God and embraced in joy outside a Philadelphia courthouse.
The unanimous not-guilty finding by the 12-person jury in U.S. District Court put an end to several months of uncertainty for Houck’s wife, Ryan Marie-Houck. Before the verdict, her husband could have faced up to 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $350,000.
Ryan-Marie, 40, told CNA Thursday that from the second her husband was charged under the FACE Act, “we prepared for the worst.”
Houck was fighting charges under the 1993 FACE Act, which prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.”
In the January trial, Houck, 48, of Kintnersville in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, acknowledged that he twice pushed a volunteer escort while sidewalk counseling outside a Planned Parenthood facility on Oct. 13, 2021. He maintained, however, that he did so because the clinic volunteer was verbally harassing his 12-year-old son.
Houck was acquitted of all charges against him and his exoneration was celebrated by many pro-life advocates, Catholics, and federal lawmakers, who were quick to criticize the federal government’s charges against the Catholic men’s ministry leader and the FBI’s early morning raid on his home.
Ryan-Marie Houck said the thought of losing her husband was “very scary.”
“They could have taken him to jail right away and my kids would not have seen him again” directly after the trial, she said.
She shared with CNA her feelings after witnessing her husband’s arrest, the months of “very exhausting” legal proceedings, and a trial that could have been the last time for a very long time that she would see her husband not behind bars.
‘It didn’t seem logical’
She said that federal prosecutors who were friends of the family told them that if Mark Houck were convicted, he could have been sent to “any federal prison” — even as far as Colorado — adding that “he wouldn’t even be here for us to visit if he was found guilty.”
Ryan-Marie kept asking herself: “I don’t understand how 12 people unanimously could say, ‘Yes, he’s guilty of all of these things.’ It didn’t seem logical.”
“So, we had hope in that,” she said. “I think the majority of the time, we thought ‘there’s no way,’ but then there were moments when there was some slight fear of what could happen.”
On Sept. 23, 2022, the day of her husband’s arrest, Ryan-Marie Houck was standing in the front doorway speaking with federal agents who apprehended her husband.
At the time, Ryan-Marie Houck told CNA that “a SWAT team of about 25 came to my house with about 15 vehicles and started pounding on our door,” adding that “they said they were going to break in if he didn’t open it. And then they had about five guns pointed at my husband, myself, and basically at my kids.”
The FBI’s Philadelphia office disputed her account, saying: “There are inaccurate claims being made regarding the arrest of Mark Houck” and that no SWAT team was involved in the arrest.
Ryan-Marie told CNA Feb. 9 that the raid on her home is “the scariest thing obviously, to happen to me in my life so far. I was very shocked.”
“My first thought was that they were there to take my children away because I’m a homeschool mom. And this is just always in the back of your mind,” she said.
She said she even wondered if the FBI had arrived at the wrong house.
“It was just a traumatic, crazy day. It’s still kind of surreal to talk about it, almost like it happened to someone else,” she said.
When her husband returned home from the courthouse the same day, she said her whole family was “greatly relieved” and that she “collapsed in his arms and was crying” as soon as she saw him.
“The kids also ran to him crying,” she said.
A ‘financial burden’ lifted and inspirational support
After news of Mark Houck’s arrest broke, a GiveSendGo — a crowdfunding platform — was set up for the family by someone unrelated to the family, and by the time of the trial, it had raised over $400,000.
“It was a great relief to have that financial burden lifted, as Mark wasn’t able to travel as much and take certain jobs,” she said, adding that it “definitely affected us on a financial level.”
Mark Houck runs a Catholic men’s ministry called The King’s Men, which encourages men to become leaders, protectors, and providers for their families by striving for virtue.
She called the support from all over the world “overwhelming” and said that she “felt like we may have read every single note to us because it was very calming and life-giving.”
“We would read it at night, just the two of us, and see what people have written to us. And it inspired us.”
The long months of court proceedings leading up to the trial were “very exhausting,” she said, noting that the trial became a particular challenge for her children who were present, as they were brought to tears by what took place.
“So, of course, we kept them out of the courtroom. And that was really hard. I don’t think I’ve spent that much time away from especially my littles ever,” she said.
‘Those are lies!’
Watching her husband take the witness stand, Ryan-Marie said that “it’s hard to see somebody that you love go through something like that,” and added that there is some “embarrassment” because “what if people think [the prosecution’s accusations] are true?”
She said she thought her husband did a great job on the witness stand but that it was “heartbreaking” for her daughter to hear some things that were said.
“She just wanted to say, ‘That’s not true! Those are lies! My dad loves everybody! And he’s so giving! She just wanted to come to his defense, as did I.”
“We weren’t surprised by the things that [the prosecutor] was saying. But it was definitely hard to hear. And I don’t think you can really prepare your heart for that kind of thing,” she said.
Seeing her son, Mark Houck Jr., take the witness stand was difficult, too, but she said she was “so proud of him.”
“I think like any mother-son situation, I was more upset than he was,” she said, adding that the 14-year-old was not afraid.
‘We knew we were in God’s will’
Ultimately for Ryan-Marie it was the outpouring of support from her siblings and other family members who were by her side and at the courthouse every single day of the trial and faithfully praying throughout the proceedings.
The prayers of her family and supporters gave her the strength to keep going, and it made her feel “very much like I wasn’t the victim.”
Throughout the legal process, she said that “people would come into our life” and try to prepare the family for life without her husband.
But she said that she knew the whole time that “God loves me more than Mark could ever love me and knows my needs more than Mark could ever know my needs. It’s the same for our children, as much as Mark and I love our children and would die for our children, God loves them more.”
“And so whatever [God] had planned for our family, we knew that it would be for the best. We knew we were in his will. So we just trusted that he would bring us through the fire,” she said.
“We couldn’t have done it without all of the prayers without all of the people coming out of the woodworks and continuing to offer their prayers, love, and support to our family,” she said.
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