UPDATE: FBI arrest of Pennsylvania pro-life leader called 'horrendous stunt'
PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- The head of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia said the FBI's arrest of a prominent Catholic pro-life activist known for his sidewalk counseling outside a Philadelphia abortion facility is "a horrendous stunt to intimidate pro-lifers."
Mark Houck, 48, was arrested at his home in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the morning of Sept. 23 for allegedly assaulting an abortion clinic volunteer a year ago in violation of the federal FACE Act.
The 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act prohibits intentional property damage and the use of "force or threat of force or ... physical obstruction" to "injure, intimidate or interfere with" someone entering an abortion clinic.
"There never was any blocking of access to an abortion center, and instead it was a moment of defense for the sake of his 12-year-old son," Tom Stevens, president and CEO of the Pro-Life Union, said in a statement Sept. 26. "This has been a consistent experience down at Planned Parenthood, where Mark and his family have been hassled."
Houck made an initial appearance in federal court in Philadelphia the same day he was arrested. On Sept. 27, he was arraigned in the same court on two counts of allegedly violating the FACE Act.
He is being represented by Peter Breen, who is vice president and senior counsel at the Thomas More Society, a not-for-profit law firm based in Chicago.
"This case is being brought solely to intimidate people of faith and pro-life Americans," stated Breen. "Mark Houck is innocent of these lawless charges, and we intend to prove that in court."
Steve Ertelt of LifeNews.com, a pro-life news website, and other news outlets reported that Houck's wife, Ryan-Marie, said her husband was doing sidewalk counseling outside the Planned Parenthood-Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center Oct. 13, 2021, when a volunteer "patient escort" leading women into the building to have abortions threatened the couple's son and yelled obscenities at him.
Ryan-Marie Houck said her husband pushed the man away from his son to protect the child after the man entered "the son's personal space" and refused to stop hurling "crude ... inappropriate and disgusting" comments at the Houcks.
Philadelphia police records show officers responded to a report of assault at the Planned Parenthood facility.
The clinic volunteer, Bruce Love, was "pushed to the ground ... causing a scrape to his right arm," the police report said. News reports said later that police eventually decided there was a "lack of evidence" that an assault took place "and declined to pursue the issue any further."
Love filed a criminal complaint against Houck last year, but according to various reports, the suit was dismissed because Love himself never showed up.
According to the federal indictment, Houck allegedly twice assaulted "B.L.," as he is identified in the court document, outside the center in two separate incidents on the same day.
"In the first incident, B.L. was attempting to escort two patients exiting the clinic, when the defendant forcefully shoved B.L. to the ground," the indictment said. "In the second incident, the defendant verbally confronted B.L. and forcefully shoved B.L. to the ground in front of the Planned Parenthood center, causing injuries to B.L. that required medical attention."
On the morning of her husband's arrest, Ryan-Marie Houck said 25 to 30 armed FBI agents, who she said included SWAT members, raided the family's home at 7:05 a.m.
She said they entered the home, pointed rifles at her and her husband as the couple's seven children began screaming, and then arrested her husband, who is co-founder and president of the King's Men, an international laymen's apostolate.
"It was all just very scary and traumatic," she told the National Review.
A spokesperson with the FBI's Philadelphia office told Fox News Digital that claims about SWAT team members being involved in the arrest were inaccurate. "FBI agents knocked on Mr. Houck's front door, identified themselves as FBI agents and asked him to exit the residence. He did so and was taken into custody without incident pursuant to an indictment."
In a later statement, the FBI said: "Extensive planning takes place prior to the service of any federal warrant. The FBI then employs the personnel and tactics deemed necessary to effect a safe arrest or search."
"While it's the FBI's standard practice not to discuss such operational specifics," the agency continued, "we can say that the number of personnel and vehicles widely reported as being on scene Friday (Sept. 23) is an overstatement, and the tactics used by FBI personnel were professional, in line with standard practices, and intended to ensure the safety of everyone present in and outside the residence."
If convicted of the offenses, Houck faces up to a maximum of 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release and fines of up to $350,000.
In a Sept. 27 statement, the Thomas More Society said its attorneys notified the Justice Department "that case law in the same district" where the Planned Parenthood center is located -- and where Houck does sidewalk counseling -- "had held that the FACE Act does not cover one-off altercations like the one involving Houck, which was initiated by the abortion proponent who was harassing Houck's son."
"The Department of Justice was also advised that if the decision was made to bring a charge against Houck despite lack of legal foundation, Houck would appear voluntarily," the release said, but Houck's "offer to appear voluntarily" was never accepted, it added.
During a Dec. 1, 2021, prayer vigil in front of the same Planned Parenthood facility in Philadelphia, amid routine heckling and intimidation, Houck and other pro-life advocates stressed the need for prayer, fasting and a willingness to rejoice amid the inevitable rejection their pro-life advocacy incurs.
"I've been spit on, I've been cursed at, I've been mocked, I've been pushed, I've been shoved, I've been knocked over," Houck told CatholicPhilly.com, the online news outlet of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. "I give thanks for it, for the ability to suffer in a small way (for Christ)."
During the vigil, Planned Parenthood stationed an armed security guard outside the facility to take names and make notes on participants, who included moms, babies and senior citizens.
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Contributing to this story was Gina Christian in Philadelphia.