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Mark Houck trial: Jury deadlocked, will resume deliberations Jan. 30

January 27, 2023 Catholic News Agency 2
Mark Houck gives a speech at the Men’s March in Boston on Oct. 15, 2022. / Credit: Screenshot of Facebook Livestream “My Mother Mary”

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 27, 2023 / 17:48 pm (CNA).

The jury deciding the fate of pro-life activist Mark Houck could not come to a decision Friday on whether the Catholic father of seven broke a federal law in a shoving incident outside a Philadelphia abortion clinic in 2021.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Pappert entered the courtroom around 5 p.m., almost two and a half hours after he sent the jury out for deliberation, and said that he received a note from the foreman that said, “Your honor at this point we are deadlocked. How long should we continue to deliberate?”

Pappert called the jury in and asked the foreman if he thought, with more time, the jury could come to a decision. 

The foreman said no, but Pappert sent the jury home with instructions to return to court and resume their deliberations Monday morning.

Houck, 48, is charged with two counts of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, better known as the FACE Act.

The allegations in the case relate to two incidents that occurred at a Philadelphia abortion clinic on Oct. 13, 2021. The federal indictment alleges that Houck twice shoved an abortion clinic escort, Bruce Love, once when Love was attempting to escort clients and again during a verbal altercation with Love in front of the clinic.

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 charges are being fought by Houck, who pleaded not guilty to the federal charges several months ago, in U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The trial began on Tuesday. However, opening statements and witnesses were not called until Wednesday and Thursday. Since then, both sides have had the opportunity to make their case with witnesses, evidence, and closing arguments.

On Friday in court, the jury got to hear from Mark Houck — sometimes referred to as Mark Sr. — and his son, Mark Houck Jr.

On the stand, the elder Houck said he told Love to “Stay away from my son” and “Don’t come near us,” as Love approached them on the sidewalk after the first incident already occurred that day, and Love was again approaching them.

The facts of the first incident are disputed by both sides. Both sides agree that Houck was sidewalk counseling two women crossing the street who left Planned Parenthood. Both sides agree that Love followed them. 

But that’s where the accounts diverge. The prosecution says that Houck elbowed Love because he was a clinic escort. Houck says that Love startled him, and even made contact with him, causing him to say “What are you doing?” and hip-check him out of reflex.

Following the first incident, Houck said Love left the clinic, placed himself next to Houck’s son, and was jeering at Houck Sr.: “You’re hurting women. You don’t care about women.”

Houck then said that the same things were said about him to his son. 

Houck’s son, who took the witness stand first and was 12 at the time of the incident, made the same claims about Love’s words.

The younger Houck said Love came and stood next to him about an arm’s length away on the wall of the clinic near the corner where they were praying and sidewalk counseling.

“I moved away… because I was scared,” he said.

The younger Houck testified that Love said to him “Your dad’s a bad person. Your dad’s harassing women.”

The boy said it was “unusual” that Love went “that far from the clinic” to escort the women, referring to the site of the first incident, when his father was counseling two women crossing the street.

Houck’s attorney, Brian McMonagle, asked the younger Houck if he prepared his testimony with his father’s lawyers. When the boy said he had, McMonagle asked him what the lawyers told him to tell the jury. 

“The truth,” he said.


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Pro-life college students to protest ‘life-ending’ abortion drugs at Walgreens, CVS 

January 26, 2023 Catholic News Agency 0
Anna Lulis from Moneta, Virginia, (left) who works for the pro-life group Students for Life of America, stands beside an abortion rights demonstrator outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on June 24, 2022, after the court’s decision in the Dobbs abortion case was announced. / Katie Yoder/CNA

Denver, Colo., Jan 26, 2023 / 10:12 am (CNA).

With the Biden administration’s expansion of abortion pill distribution to neighborhood pharmacies, pro-life college students and other anti-abortion advocates are organizing campaigns against CVS, Walgreens, and other companies that have announced that they will dispense the drugs. 

“Our purpose of having these protests is so that we can let ‘Big Pharma’ companies know that it’s absolutely unacceptable to offer abortion at our neighborhood drug stores,” Caroline Wharton, Students for Life of America press strategist and staff writer, told CNA Jan. 24.

Students for Life is asking pro-life advocates to join its planned protests and advocacy actions directed at companies that have announced their intention to distribute the abortion drug mifepristone. The pro-life organization has almost 1,300 student groups on high school and college campuses, according to its website.

On Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, Students for Life will hold its kickoff protest “Cancel Abortion Cartels” at Walgreens’ corporate headquarters in Deerfield, Illinois. It has called for a National Day of Protest at local pharmacies on March 4. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Jan. 3 announced it would allow any patient with a prescription to obtain mifepristone from her local retail pharmacy. Both CVS and Walgreens have said they will pursue a certification process to provide the drugs, and Rite Aid has said it will dispense the drugs at a limited number of pharmacies and through the mail.

The protests, Wharton said, aim “to let these CEOs know that they need to go back on this decision. They do not need to certify this program with the FDA and they should not be distributing these life-ending drugs.”

“I don’t want to go into a drugstore and be able to buy my chewing gum and my tights and then get a pill that ends a life. It’s just not acceptable,” Wharton told CNA.

The drug mifepristone works by cutting off nutrients necessary for a fetus to continue developing. It is paired with another drug called misoprostol, which is taken 24 hours or more later to trigger uterine contractions to expel the baby’s dead body. The drug is FDA-approved for abortions up to 10 weeks into gestation. It already accounts for more than half of all abortions in the U.S.

CNA sought comment from Walgreens, which repeated its intentions to distribute abortion pills.

“We intend to become a certified pharmacy under the program,” a spokesperson said Jan. 24. “We are working through the registration, necessary training of our pharmacists, as well as evaluating our pharmacy network in terms of where we normally dispense products that have extra FDA requirements and will dispense these consistent with federal and state laws.”

CVS did not respond to a request for comment.

Students for Life will “absolutely oppose” all pharmacies dispensing the abortion pill, Wharton said.  The arrival of the abortion pill at the neighborhood pharmacy “changes the battlelines for the pro-life movement,” Wharton said.

While prayers and sidewalk counseling outside abortion facilities have been a continual practice, plans to distribute the abortion pill through neighborhood pharmacies “changes the way that we’re able to work.”

“Abortion is very harmful for a community overall, so bringing it into all communities like that, I think, is very detrimental,” she said.

Students for Life is organizing letter-writing campaigns and an effort to send Valentine’s Day cards to CEOs to ask them to “urge them to stop making our pharmacies abortion facilities and distributing deadly chemical abortion pills,” its website said.

40 Days for Life, a longtime organizer of peaceful prayer and pro-life outreach campaigns at abortion clinics, will encourage protests at pharmacies during its upcoming Feb. 22-April 2 campaign.

“CVS and Walgreens have replaced Planned Parenthood as the most significant abortion chains in the Western Hemisphere,” Shawn Carney, president and CEO of 40 Days for Life, told CNA Jan. 24. “With 18,000 locations between the two, and now Rite Aid joining in, we have given the hundreds of 40 Days for Life campaign leaders not currently leading a campaign the opportunity to do so outside a pharmacy.”

Last week on its website, 40 Days for Life said the CVS and Walgreens decisions are “turning their stores into abortion facilities.” The organization invited people who don’t have an abortion facility nearby to apply on its website to lead a protest in front of pharmacies that have said they will dispense abortion pills.

Leading these campaigns can “save lives through your witness and abortion pill reversal,” empower pro-life pharmacists, educate the community about the dangers of chemical abortion to women and babies, and “send a message to pharmacy executives that dealing in death is not a good business decision.”

“A dedicated abortion facility is still our first priority, but we have lost campaigns for the best reason — their abortion facility has gone out of business,” Carney told CNA. “Those locations — and many more in rural America — will now be focusing on abortion dispensing pharmacies. The complications of these dangerous abortion drugs (which often result in ER visits or follow-up appointments) and the employee conscience rights issues hitting CVS and Walgreens right now will be a legal headache for pharmacies.”

Until this month, FDA policy only allowed certified doctors, clinics, and some mail-order pharmacies to dispense mifepristone.

Critics of the drug include the Charlotte Lozier Institute, a pro-life think tank. Its July 2022 fact sheet on risks and complications of chemical abortion said that abortion pills are four times riskier than surgical abortions. The need for follow-up care can range from 3% to 10% of women when the drug is taken early in pregnancy and up to 39% of women if accidentally taken late in pregnancy, when surgery could be required.

Women could be put at risk by a lack of ultrasound tests to confirm the age and the position of the unborn child, especially if there is an ectopic pregnancy. A lack of blood test requirements could affect Rh-negative women, who need special treatment to avoid serious risks to future pregnancies.

Wharton said that easier access to the pills can make it easier for abusive men to conceal pregnancy and abuse.

“It’s going to make it easier for abusers in the community to buy these pills,” she objected. “It’s going to make it easier for a woman in a situation where she’s vulnerable to get an abortion, and she has nobody counseling her.”