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DOJ sues 5 anti-abortion activists for blocking healthcare clinic

The Justice Department on Thursday filed a lawsuit against five anti-abortion activists accused of violating the FACE Act. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
The Justice Department on Thursday filed a lawsuit against five anti-abortion activists accused of violating the FACE Act. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo

June 20 (UPI) -- The Justice Department on Thursday filed a civil lawsuit against five anti-abortion activists, three of whom have been convicted for blocking accesses to reproductive health clinics, on allegations of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances.

Federal prosecutors are seeking monetary penalties of $20,516 for a first violation of the FACE Act and $30,868 for subsequent violations stemming from an anti-abortion blockade staged in 2022, at a Fort Myers, Fla., reproductive healthcare clinic.

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Three of defendants -- Calvin Zastrow, Eva Zastrow and Chester Gallagher -- have previously been convicted for violating the FACE Act and are facing other FACE Act charges stemming from additional anti-abortion blockades held at clinics nationwide.

"Physically blocking those seeking or providing reproductive health services in order to impose their views is unlawful," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said in a statement Thursday. "The Justice Department will continue enforcing the FACE Act to protect against such obstruction."

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According to the lawsuit, the five defendants, including Kenneth Scott and Katelyn Sims, are accused of trespassing at the Fort Myers Health Center on Jan. 27, 2022, resulting in a temporary shutdown of its operations.

The document states that the defendants were in the parking lot of the facility before it opened and are accused of insulting one of the facility's employees as they arrived to start work.

A second employee who arrived at the facility was directed to wait in their vehicle because of the protestors, who also allegedly called the employee a "baby murderer" who is "going to hell."

The Lee County Sheriff's Office responded to reports of protestors preventing patients from seeking services at the facility and on arrival, sheriff's deputies informed the defendants that they were trespassing and instructed them to leave.

LCSO deputies repeated their warnings and tried to block the protestors, "but the protestors continued to the front door of the Fort Myers Health Center while yelling at the deputies that 'they are killing babies inside and you are not doing anything about it,'" the lawsuit states.

Several of the defendants then blocked the facility's front door with their bodies, and Eva Zastrow is accused of trying to shove the door closed as a patient tried to enter, resulting in security having to "pry the door open to allow the patient to squeeze past," according to the lawsuit.

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Eva Zastrow, Calvin Zastrow and Sims were arrested, but then Scott and Gallagher attempted to enter the back of the facility. When they failed, they shoved signs under the door, the court document asserted, frightening the employees inside.

"Fort Myers Health Center employees took actions in case they needed to protect themselves, such as grabbing a scalpel, taking apart an IV pole to use as a weapon and holding a large metal sign to prepare to block the back side door," it said.

When deputies arrived at the door, Scott and Gallagher refused to move, telling the law enforcement officials to "take me to jail" and "they are killing babies."

On June 14, 2023, four of the defendants were found guilty of trespassing on the facility's property and Scott entered a nolo contendere plea on the same charge on Aug. 2, 2023.

"The Justice Department ensures that individuals cannot pick which laws they wish to follow," U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg for the Middle District of Florida said Thursday in a statement.

"We look forward to continuing to protect the rights of patients and providers to access reproductive health care."

Gallagher and Calvin Zastrow, along with four other defendants, are to be sentenced July 2 after being found guilty in January of orchestrating a blockade of a Tennessee healthcare clinic in 2021.

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