Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and Christian legal group First Liberty Institute filed lawsuits Wednesday seeking damages and fines against two members of Antifa and pro-abortion group Jane’s Revenge who allegedly vandalized three pro-life pregnancy centers in south and central Florida.
A federal grand jury indicted Caleb Freestone, 27, and Amber Smith-Stewart, 23, with violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act in January. Under the FACE Act, state attorneys general can sue for damages, as can the victims of vandalism and other attacks. First Liberty Institute is suing on behalf of one of the pregnancy centers in question.
According to Catholic Vote, vandals have targeted at least 83 pro-life pregnancy centers and 144 Catholic churches since the May 2022 leak of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, in which the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
“We commend Attorney General Ashley Moody for her determination to hold these vandals, along with the broader network associated with Jane’s Revenge, accountable for the over 100 attacks on life-affirming reproductive health facilities across the country since someone leaked the Dobbs decision,” Jeremy Dys, special counsel at First Liberty, told The Daily Signal in a Thursday statement.
“Antifa and Jane’s Revenge are criminal organizations and must answer for their crimes in Florida,” Moody said in a Thursday statement. “I am taking action to hold their members accountable for attempting to intimidate and threaten law-abiding citizens in our state.”
Freestone and Smith-Stewart spray-painted threats such as “If abortions aren’t safe then neither are you” and “YOUR TIME IS UP!!” at the South Broward Pregnancy Help Center in Hollywood on May 28, the LifeChoice crisis pregnancy center in Winter Haven on June 26, and the Heartbeat of Miami pregnancy center in Hialeah on July 3, according to Moody’s lawsuit.
Moody asks the federal court to assess damages and fines of $170,000 each for Freestone and Smith-Stewart.
First Liberty, which represents Heartbeat of Miami, seeks to recover penalties imposed by the FACE Act and from other legal theories for defendants’ “attempts to injure, intimidate, or interfere with life-affirming reproductive health facilities.”
Both lawsuits refer to Freestone and Smith-Stewart as members of Antifa and Jane’s Revenge, which are loose affiliations of left-leaning activists more than official organizations.
Dys praised assistant U.S. attorneys in Florida for having “helpfully released indictments” against vandals targeting pregnancy centers. He noted that First Liberty will update its complaint to include Gabriella Oropesa and Annarella Rivera, whom the grand jury indicted Wednesday for allegedly working with Freestone and Smith-Stewart to violate the FACE Act.
Dys predicted that more lawsuits will follow as law enforcement identifies suspected vandals.
“If a state has a pregnancy resource center that’s been damaged by these vandals and by Jane’s Revenge and we reasonably know who did that, it would be a dereliction of duty for an [attorney general] to simply allow these individuals to run rampant over life-affirming reproductive health facilities when they have this tool in their tool bag,” Dys told The Daily Signal. “The rule of law compels this lawsuit.”
He added that First Liberty represents “several facilities across the country on this point.”
The Department of Justice has faced harsh criticism for an allegedly lax approach to applying the law against vandals who target pro-life pregnancy centers while its Civil Rights Division charged 26 pro-life individuals in 2022 with violations of the FACE Act allegedly against abortion clinics. The legislation protects both pro-life pregnancy centers and abortion clinics, as a DOJ official noted to Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, in December.
Also in December, U.S. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta revealed that DOJ has been targeting pro-life activists through the FACE Act as a response to the overturn of Roe v. Wade as she delivered remarks at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division’s 65th Anniversary.
The associate attorney general described the overturn of Roe v. Wade as a “devastating blow to women throughout the country” that took away “the constitutional right to abortion” and increased “the urgency” of the DOJ’s work—including the “enforcement of the FACE Act, to ensure continued lawful access to reproductive services.”
In a hearing early this month, Attorney General Merrick Garland suggested that the reason the Justice Department has indicted more pro-life activists than pro-abortion vandals is because the pro-abortion vandals attack at night and, therefore, are harder to catch.
The Daily Signal’s Mary Margaret Olohan contributed to this report.
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