What Everyone Needs to Know About the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act
While the Dobbs decision by the Supreme Court in June 2022 has reverted the issue of abortion to the states, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act remains in force as a federal protection for people seeking reproductive health services, which includes both abortion and crisis pregnancy counseling. In this article, we will review the implications of the bill for those who choose to protest outside of reproductive health clinics.
Provisions of the Act
Signed into law by President Bill Clinton in May 1994, the FACE Act was passed not in response to protest, which is protected by the First Amendment, but in response to violence against abortion providers, reproductive health clinics, and patients seeking services. This had the effect to define the limits of peaceful and lawful protest outside of clinics. The FACE Act forbids the use of force, or the threat of force, or physical obstruction with the intent to injure, intimidate, or prevent the movement of anyone seeking reproductive healthcare. It also prohibits property damage against clinics because of the services they provide.
The FACE Act also protects access to crisis pregnancy centers and houses of worship. There is language identical to that protecting clinic access that protects access to houses of worship and bars property damage against houses of worship.
Activities Prohibited by the Act
Activities prohibited by the FACE ACT may include, but are not limited to:
- Bombs or bomb threats
- Blockading clinic entrances
- Making entrance or egress from a facility difficult
- Physically blocking cars from entering or exiting the parking lot
- Trespassing on clinic property
- Violence and threats of violence
Activities Permitted Under the Act
There are activities which have been found to not violate the Act and are protected under the First Amendment right to free speech:
- Carrying signs
- Counseling patients to choose other options for their pregnancies
- Distributing literature
- Yelling and shouting (so long as no threats are made)
Penalties for Violating the Act
Violating the FACE Act can result in both fines and jail time, with penalties varying for if violence was used or not.
For a first-time strictly non-violent offense:
- 6 months in jail, max.
- Fine up to $10,000
For a second or subsequent strictly non-violent offense:
- 18 months in jail, max.
- Fine up to $25,000
For a first-time violent offense:
- 1 year in jail, max.
- Fine up to $100,000
For a second or subsequent violent offense:
- 3 years in jail, max.
- Fine up to $250,000
If injury results from a violent offense, the maximum sentence is 10 years even if it was a first-time offense. Violent offenses may result in charges separate from the FACE Act as well.
Skilled Defense Attorneys, Here for You
If you have been charged under the FACE Act, you need to contact our office as soon as possible to begin planning your defense. Burnham & Gorokhov has a proven record of successfully defending our clients on federal charges.