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Antiabortion activist who kept fetuses convicted of blocking clinic

4 other antiabortionist defendants were also convicted of conspiracy and using violence or force to block access to a Northwest Washington clinic in 2020

Defendant Lauren Handy speaks at a news conference outside court in D.C. this month. (Ellie Silverman/The Washington Post)
5 min

An antiabortion activist who kept fetuses in a Capitol Hill home was convicted Tuesday of illegally blockading a reproductive health clinic in D.C.

Lauren Handy was on trial with four others who were charged with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, a 1994 law that prohibits threats to and obstruction of a person seeking reproductive health services or providers. A U.S. District Court jury in D.C. found Handy and all four of her co-defendants guilty on all counts.

Federal prosecutors allege the defendants — Handy, of Alexandria, Va.; John Hinshaw, of Levittown, N.Y.; Heather Idoni, of Linden, Mich.; William Goodman, of New York; and Herb Geraghty, of Pittsburgh — violated federal law when they used chains, bike locks and ropes to blockade the Washington Surgi-Clinic in October 2020. The trial for a second group of defendants facing charges from the same blockade is scheduled to begin next week.

It took the jury of eight men and four women about a day to reach the verdicts following about a week of testimony and evidence. The defendants sat expressionless as the verdicts were read.

In the hallway outside the courtroom afterward, the defendants were allowed to briefly mingle with their supporters, several of whom were in tears. “You are standing on the shoulders of giants,” one of Handy’s supporters said to her. “This is your Birmingham jail,” another supporter told her, a reference to where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was imprisoned during civil rights demonstrations in 1963.

In the hallway, Handy called out the name of the abortion doctor at the Northwest Washington clinic and said the doctor was “committing infanticide.”

Minutes later, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly summoned the defendants and their attorneys back into the courtroom. Based on the convictions, she ordered Handy and the other co-defendants jailed until sentencing later this year. The defendants face up to 11 years in prison and a fine of up to $350,000.

Prosecutors said Handy was the leader of the group that orchestrated the blockade and recruited participants for what one of the defendants described, in a Facebook post that was shown at trial, as the first large-scale antiabortion blockade in 25 years.

Antiabortion activists sentenced for trespassing at Alexandria clinic

Handy, prosecutors said, used a fake name to book an appointment to determine the time abortions were performed at the clinic so she and others could arrive to prevent patients from entering.

“They planned their crime carefully, to take over that clinic, block access to reproductive services and interfere with others’ rights,” Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb said during his closing arguments last week. “The idea of deliberately breaking the law, to them, was sexy.”

Crabb then outlined each defendant’s roles: He said Goodman carried ropes and chains into the clinic that the others used to tie themselves to chairs and one another. Idoni was shown on video standing in front of a door to the clinic and telling a police officer she would not let a patient who had arrived to have an abortion go inside. Hinshaw used the chains to tie himself to chairs that blocked the doors that allowed patients to the back of the clinic. Geraghty prevented a woman who had collapsed on the floor in labor pains related to pregnancy complications from going inside for an abortion.

Prosecutors played videos that showed the group singing hymns, praying and yelling, “They are killing babies in there.” Another video played in court captured the protesters yelling at a Pennsylvania woman who drove to Washington to get an abortion at the clinic and asking her how she could “kill [her] baby” and saying that she was “going to hell.”

The jury agreed with prosecutors that the defendants used force or violence to block access to the clinic.

The blockade lasted about three hours before D.C. police were able to remove the defendants, prosecutors said. One nurse at the clinic suffered a severe sprained ankle.

Defense attorneys argued that at most, their clients may have been trespassing. Each defendant argued they were not blocking anyone from accessing the clinic. Prosecutors played police body-camera video that showed Idoni standing next to an entrance to the clinic and telling the officer she would not move or let anyone in. On the witness stand, Idoni testified that no patients had tried to enter the clinic while she stood at the door. One security video showed a patient climbing across a counter and through a receptionist window to get to the back of the clinic so she could have an abortion.

The daunting task of finding an impartial jury in an abortion trial

“There was never an attempt to obstruct. At one point, you saw Ms. Handy holding the door open for the patients,” Handy’s attorney, Martin A. Cannon, told the jury during his closing arguments. Cannon insisted Handy “never pushed or threatened anyone.” Cannon added, “Planning an event is not a conspiracy.”

The attorneys said they hoped jurors would view each defendant and the evidence against them individually, as opposed to as a group. Several attorneys played the same prosecution security videos to point out how their client was not seen blocking doors or confronting clinic employees or patients.

The case gained additional notoriety when, the same day a federal indictment was announced against the defendants, D.C. police discovered five fetuses in a Capitol Hill rowhouse basement where Handy had been staying. The criminal trial, however, has nothing to do with the fetuses that antiabortion activists say they collected from outside the same D.C. abortion clinic, and authorities have not charged anyone in that matter.

Federal prosecutors requested that witnesses — clinic employees and patients — be allowed to use pseudonyms to protect their privacy and safety.

A trial for four remaining co-defendants who were also arrested at the clinic is scheduled to begin next week.

Razzan Nakhlawi contributed to this report.