On August 29, my friend Will Goodman and four other defendants were convicted (and immediately jailed) in federal court in Washington, D.C., of violating the FACE Act. Their alleged offenses occurred on October 22, 2020, when the group disrupted a late-term-abortion mill run by the notorious DC “doctor” Cesare Santangelo. (Others also entered the clinic that day—their trial is set to begin September 6.) Will and his co-defendants, as well as the others, could be sentenced to up to eleven years in a federal penitentiary for “conspiracy against rights.”
The 1994 FACE Act was sponsored by the late Senator Edward Kennedy and signed into law by then-president Bill Clinton. The acronym FACE stands for Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances. The legislation was designed to do just that: prohibit interference in “obtaining or providing reproductive health services.”
But there is more to the story than the generic language of the 1994 bill indicates. The FACE Act had a specific, albeit unnamed, target: Operation Rescue. From its beginning in 1986, Operation Rescue practiced what might be called “direct action” against abortionists. Rescuers would physically block clinic entrances, disrupting the lucrative business of “terminating” unwanted pregnancies. As Operation Rescue describes it, “thousands of men and women willingly sat in front of abortion mill doors to prevent the killing of innocent children and paid the penalty in arrest and prosecution on trespassing charges.”
The last two words of the above quote reveal why pro-abortion groups pushed for FACE legislation. “Trespassing” is a minor offense. Sitting in front of a doorway harms no one physically and does no damage to property. In the case of Operation Rescue, such simple acts protected untold numbers of women and their babies. Trespassing arrests, even multiple trespassing convictions, didn’t deter rescuers from saving lives. The FACE Act, however, imposes hefty fines and heavy prison time for blocking access to clinics, increasing the costs of rescue work substantially.
While rescues did not end after FACE they did become less frequent. By 2010, when I began volunteering a couple of hours a week in the pro-life movement, it was standard operating procedure to stick to the sidewalk. Speaking to (and praying for) the people who entered abortion clinic parking lots—but not physically preventing them from using the front door—was how everyone I knew in the pro-life movement went about their counseling efforts.
Everyone, that is, except Will Goodman. I met Will more than a decade ago on the sidewalk outside a Planned Parenthood in Madison, Wisconsin. Will is a gentle and good-natured man, humble and kind. He is non-violent in every fiber of his being. His heroes include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., St. Maria Goretti, and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. But he spoke most often of Mary Wagner, a Canadian prolifer who has spent some six years in prison for the “crime” of entering abortion clinics to speak with mothers there in the hope of convincing them not to end the lives of their babies.
As his lineup of heroes testifies, Will lives by a higher law than that found in the statute books. Trespassing is illegal, and so, of course, is violating the FACE Act. I knew that, and duly stayed on the lawful side of the pro-life line, standing on the sidewalk on Friday afternoons, holding signs and praying the rosary. Will did, too, and I was honored to be out there with him. But I knew he was bound to go much further. I knew that, like Mary Wagner, like Dr. King, he would not accept an unjust law. Because for Will, justice is truly blind. Everyone, regardless of age or any other characteristic, is his brother or sister in Christ. He would readily put his life on the line to help any child of God, including the tiniest and most vulnerable.
Despite the risks, then, Will dedicated himself to rescues. He has been arrested and jailed many times for his loving witness in defense of mothers and their preborn children. In June 2018, for instance, Will and fellow Red Rose Rescuer and group leader Monica Migliorino Miller were jailed for sidewalk counseling outside an abortion mill in West Bloomfield, Michigan. The local prosecutor, urging the presiding judge to deal harshly with the prolifers, snarled, “Only God’s law matters to these people”. How truly he spoke. In Will’s eyes, everyone is worth fighting for, even—especially—if the legal codes say otherwise. Justice is a matter of seeing the truth and acting accordingly. Despite the FACE Act, Will has the courage to face the truth about abortion directly.
In October 2020, Will, who is 52 and comes from the Bronx, along with Lauren Handy, 28, of Alexandria, Virginia, John Hinshaw, 67, of Levittown, New York, Heather Idoni, 61, of Linden, Michigan, and Herb Geraghty, 25, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, entered Santangelo’s late-term abortion clinic, which they had chosen in part because in a 2013 undercover video, released by Live Action, Santangelo says that if a baby were to be “delivered before we got to the termination part of the procedure here, then we would do things—we would—we would not help it.” The truth about abortion, a truth that Will and the others saw, includes the grim fact that at Cesare Santangelo’s place of business, in defiance of federal law, children who are born alive before they can be torn to pieces are left to die.
The 2013 Live Action video, and the October 2020 rescue inspired by it, surely saved some children from the clutches of Cesare Santangelo. But, tragically, not all. In March 2022, Handy and some colleagues (Will was not among them) made the gruesome discovery of one hundred and fifteen fetal remains in the process of being disposed of by Santangelo’s clinic. Five of the children were significantly larger than the others. One child, later named Christopher X, was more than thirty weeks along in his fetal development. Another, later named Harriet, appeared to have been subjected to a partial-birth abortion.
There are photos of these children, these victims of Cesare Santangelo. There is a video of Santangelo describing what he does to them. However, at the trial of the five rescuers who interrupted Santangelo’s business nearly three years ago, none of this was allowed to be presented in court. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that since Santangelo had committed no crimes as far as the Live Action video could demonstrate, “admitting the video would create a ‘minitrial’ on the [Santangelo] clinic, shifting the jury’s focus from Defendants’ charged conduct to the conduct of the clinic and doctor eight years prior.” Therefore, she also ruled, the photos of children whom Santangelo had maimed and thrown out with the trash could not be shown, either.
In other words, the trial must not be about what really goes on in abortion clinics. The truth, articulated in the video by the abortionist himself, and demonstrated in the images of those he had killed, must be completely denied. The contrast here is most striking. Will Goodman and the others were convicted of violating the FACE Act. The only way this judicial outcome could have been achieved, Judge Kollar-Kotelly seemed to understand, was to prevent the jury (some of whom were admitted Planned Parenthood donors from seeing the faces of the victims the FACE Act helps condemn to death.
Monica Miller makes a similar point about abortion cases. “Reality is kept out of the courtroom,” she writes in Crisis. “As a Michigan judge once said to me: ‘I don’t operate in the objective world.’ When a pro-lifer stands trial in a case in which the truth of abortion is formally denied, it’s as if he were the only sane person in an insane asylum.”
But not everyone is insane or—what amounts to the same thing here—willfully blinded. My friend Will Goodman knows that we humans ought to face the truth in its entirety. All human beings should receive, at a minimum, equal protection under the law. That is blind justice. When it comes to abortion, though, justice operates blinded. The misnamed Department of Justice characterized the conviction of Will and his four companions as a victory for “civil rights.” Such logic as this makes sense only if the fundamental truth—that children in the womb are human beings—is kept from view.