The trial against pro-life sidewalk counselor Mark Houck came to an end today, as a jury acquitted Houck of all charges.
Houck’s saga began on October 13, 2021, when Houck and his 12-year-old son were reaching out to women outside a Philadelphia Planned Parenthood. An abortion facility escort reportedly began harassing Houck’s son, making crude and antagonistic remarks, as Houck repeatedly instructed the escort to leave his son alone. When the escort refused, Houck allegedly pushed him away.
“Repeatedly, Mark would tell this pro-abortion man that he did not have permission to speak to his son and please refrain from doing so. And ‘he kept doing it and kind of came into [the son’s] personal space’ obscenely ridiculing his father. At this point, ‘Mark shoved him away from his child, and the guy fell back,’” Houck’s wife told LifeSiteNews last year. “He didn’t have any injuries or anything, but he tried to sue Mark.”
Local officials arrived on the scene and chose not to arrest anyone. The escort filed a private criminal complaint, but it was thrown out when, three different times, the escort failed to appear in court. Less than a week later, the DOJ became involved. In September of 2022, Houck’s home was raided by 15-20 armed FBI agents, arresting him in front of his wife and children. The Department of Justice (DOJ) charged Houck with violating the FACE Act, and he faced up to 11 years in prison.
Numerous updates to the story came during the trial.
The Thomas More Society, which is representing Houck, pointed out that the FACE Act specifically excludes abortion facility escorts. “The FACE Act was never intended to cover disputes between advocates on the public sidewalks outside of our nation’s abortion clinics,” Peter Breen, Thomas More Society Executive Vice President and Head of Litigation, said in a press release. “This new evidence shows clearly that Congress intended to limit the FACE Act to patients and staff working in the clinic, and not to take sides between pro-life and pro-choice counselors and escorts on the sidewalk. The Biden Department of Justice’s prosecution of Mark Houck is pure harassment, meant solely to intimidate our nation’s pro-life sidewalk counselors who provide vital resources to help pregnant women at risk for abortion.”
The judge seemed to feel the same way, as he reportedly remarked, “It appears to me that the U.S. government is stretching the statute of the FACE Act.”
During his court testimony on Friday, Houck explained how he repeatedly told the escort to stay away from him and his son. A video interview during the trial also reportedly showed that the escort violated Planned Parenthood’s own policies by engaging with Houck.
The jury began deliberating on Friday, but was deadlocked by the end of the day. They continued to deliberate the case through Monday, before eventually returning to acquit Houck of all charges.
“We are, of course, thrilled with the outcome,” Peter Breen, Thomas More Society Executive Vice President & Head of Litigation, said in a statement. “Mark and his family are now free of the cloud that the Biden administration threw upon them. We took on Goliath – the full might of the United States government – and won. The jury saw through and rejected the prosecution’s discriminatory case, which was harassment from day one. This is a win for Mark and the entire pro-life movement. The Biden Department of Justice’s intimidation against pro-life people and people of faith has been put in its place.”