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Catholic pro-life activist sentenced to prison in United States

Pro-life activist Joan Andrews Bell (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

For taking part in a "rescue" at an abortion clinic in Washington, D.C., 76-year-old Catholic pro-life campaigner Joan Andrews Bell received a sentence of more than two years in jail.

On Wednesday, according to a report from the Catholic News Agency, Bell was jailed together with three other activists: Jean Marshall, 74; Jonathan Darnel, 42; and Herb Geraghty, 27. The court sentenced Marshall to 24 months, Darnel to 34 months, and Geraghty to 27 months.

The punishments were imposed by Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, a U.S. District Judge.

Bell's family "cried tears of joy that the sentence wasn't longer," says Terrisa Bukovinac, another pro-life activist who has been posting updates from the courtroom. Marshall also produced a doctor's certificate stating that Bell needed a hip replacement because of severe osteoporosis.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) accused the three of felonious offenses, including conspiracy against rights and violation of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act. The three campaigners teamed up, according to the Department of Justice, to blockade an abortion facility.

This occurred almost nine months after Bell and eight other pro-life activists were found guilty of felony counts of conspiracy against rights and violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act for their role in a rescue at the Washington Surgi-Clinic, which is managed by Dr. Cesare Santangelo.

According to a previous DOJ statement, the rescuers used "physical obstruction to injure, intimidate, and interfere with the clinic's employees and a patient because they were providing or obtaining reproductive health services."

“Forcefully entered the clinic and set about blockading two clinic doors using their bodies, furniture, chains, and ropes,” the DOJ added.

For the same rally, three more activists—Lauren Handy, 30, John Hinshaw, 69, and William Goodman, 54—also received terms on Tuesday that ranged from over five years to just under two years. Handy, who was the organizer, received the longest term of four years and nine months.

“Right now, they’re all convicted felons and that’s worth fighting over.”

Martin Cannon

Martin Cannon, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, which defended Handy, predicts that "most, if not all," of the penalties will likely face an appeal. In these matters, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals would hear the appeals.

“Right now, they’re all convicted felons and that’s worth fighting over,” Cannon said. 

Cannon anticipates a reduction in the sentences. He also noted that these instances will draw attention to the abuse of the FACE Act to target pro-lifers, particularly the years-long jail sentences imposed against elderly ladies and men.

He added that despite their penalties, the pro-lifers remain unfazed.

“I think that this overreach by the federal government, the conviction of these people, is …  going to galvanize people,” he said. “It certainly has not discouraged our clients. It is going to galvanize the pro-life world and give it energy,” he added.


Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.