The trial for six pro-lifers for peacefully protesting a Tennessee abortion facility back in 2021 began in federal court in Nashville on Wednesday.
The pro-life activists are accused of violating the FACE Act and civil rights conspiracy for a protest that took place in a hallway outside of a Mount Juliet abortion provider on March 5, 2021.
On that day, a group of demonstrators gathered on the second floor of an office building in the hallway outside the Carafem Health Center Clinic. The group prayed, sang hymns, and urged women showing up to the clinic to not get abortions.
Eleven of the protesters were arrested for trespassing at the time after local police arrived and dispersed the crowd. In October 2022, the 11 pro-lifers were indicted by a federal grand jury after the Justice Department pursued charges against them arguing that there was conspiracy by the group to stop the women from accessing so-called “reproductive health care” and violating federal law ensuring access to abortion facilities.
If convicted, the pro-lifers could face up to 11 years in prison and $250,000 worth of fines.
After jury selection was completed on Wednesday, the trial of Chet Gallagher of Tennessee, Coleman Boyd of Mississippi, Heather Idoni of Michigan, Cal Zastrow of Michigan, Paul Vaughn of Tennessee, and Dennis Green of Virginia began. The jury was composed of 11 women and 5 men. Trial dates for the other 4 defendants have not yet been set. One of those charged, Caroline Davis, has pled guilty and is expected to be called by the federal government to witness on Thursday.
As the trial began, roughly 40 people sat in the gallery, including family of those on trial and multiple people who brought Bibles along.
During the opening statement, the federal government accused the pro-lifers of plotting to “block doors to a health care clinic” and saying that the demonstrators planned on being arrested. The DOJ also said that the demonstration was not a protest, but a violation of federal law.
Each of the lawyers for the defendants then had an opportunity to give an opening statement. Jodie Bell, Gallagher’s lawyer, said that the pro-lifers were peaceful and were only trying to convince pregnant women not to abort their unborn children. The other lawyers also said that their clients never injured, threatened, or assaulted anyone during the protest.
The trial is taking place in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee at the Fred D. Thompson courthouse. Overseeing the case is Judge Aleta Trauger, appointed to the court in 1998 by then-President Bill Clinton.
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