Holding bullhorns and sometimes graphic signs depicting aborted babies, sidewalk ministers around the United States have seconds to reach the hearts of pregnant women moments before they walk into abortion facilities.
“We had one mother who came up to me on the sidewalk. She saw some signs of ours, stopped, and said, ‘Is that real?’ It was a photo of a baby that had been aborted,” Denny Green, 56, of Cumberland, Virginia, told The Epoch Times. “We let her know, ‘Yeah, that is real.’ She said, ‘If that’s real, I can’t do that to my baby,’ and she decided not to take her baby’s life.”
Green said the group followed up with the woman, helping with food and other needs but eventually lost contact, until five years later.
“She saw us out on the street again, stopped and let us meet her little girl,” he said. “That has happened numerous times. We’re there for the long haul, if they need us, as a friend or as a help. We’re there to walk with them.”
Green is among 11 people federally charged with the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act for a March 2021 pro-life demonstration at a now-closed abortion facility in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. The FACE Act prohibits interference with obtaining or providing abortions.
In this case, the abortion facility was inside a larger medical building that had other, unrelated medical offices. Some of those charged stood in the hallway, blocking the door, while others stood down the hall, closer to an elevator. They sang Christian songs, prayed, and spoke to women seeking to enter the facility, which is shown in a video captured by one of the group members.
“Sir, that baby is a blessing from God,” one of the 11 told a couple who walked toward the abortion facility door, saw the people in the hallway, then got back on the elevator.
“Yeah. More power to you,” the man with the woman said as the elevator doors closed.
Local police arrested some members of the group and charged them with trespassing. Once the trespassing charges were handled, those arrested thought the incident was behind them. But 19 months later, in October 2022, they were charged by the FBI.
By this time, the abortion facility was closed due to a change in Tennessee law that now bans abortion after a baby’s heartbeat is detected.
The landscape on the frontline of abortion is changing.
While sidewalk counselors preach, most often from the sidewalk, abortion facilities have volunteer escorts to walk women from their cars to the facility doors. The escorts sometimes try to drown out the voices of preachers and counselors by blowing whistles, running loud leaf blowers, or screaming vulgarities at them.
Shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, President Joe Biden issued an executive order for his administration to address “the heightened risk related to seeking and providing reproductive health care.” He formed the Reproductive Rights Task Force, a Justice Department-led group focused, in part, on enforcing the FACE Act.
Passed in 1994, the FACE Act chilled some pro-life activity at abortion facilities. Starting in the late 1980s, thousands of pro-life activists willing to face low-level trespassing charges used to hold sit-ins, pray, and carry signs at abortion facilities around the country. But after the fatal shootings of two abortionists and three facility workers in the early 1990s, the FACE Act—which calls for federal prison and fines—was implemented. Fewer people were willing to risk federal charges and left the movement.
Still, some pro-life activists are willing to risk their freedom to save babies headed for death.
Now, the Biden administration is cracking down on them. In the 10 years between 2011 and 2021, the Department of Justice criminally charged 17 people with FACE Act violations, according to the DOJ website. In 2022 alone, the DOJ charged 26 people. The Epoch Times requested comment from the DOJ.
Paul Vaughn, a father of 11 in Centerville, Tennessee, was preparing to take his children to school on Oct. 5, 2022, when the FBI pounded on his door with their guns drawn, terrifying the children, he said. FBI agents put him in handcuffs, drove him to Nashville, put him in a holding cell, and charged him with violating the FACE Act and with conspiracy to violate civil rights for his participation in the Tennessee event.
By 2 p.m., he said, they released him onto the streets of Nashville with no phone or wallet to find his way home and with a new list of pretrial restrictions to follow, such as where he was allowed to travel.
In addition to there being more FACE Act arrests recently, the penalties are higher. Vaughn faces 11 years in federal prison because of the added conspiracy charge.
“I’ve got an 18-month-old at home and several other children that will spend a good part of their developing years without dad at home, if I end up going to prison for an extended time,” Vaughn told The Epoch Times.
He said he and his wife have cried and prayed about the situation many times.
“God is in control,” he said. “He knows the beginning from the end. My children will see their dad at least had the courage to stand for what’s right.”
There are two federal conspiracy statutes for these kinds of cases, Stephen Crampton, Vaughn’s attorney and senior counsel at the Thomas More Society, told The Epoch Times. One requires that, for a conspiracy violation, the penalty cannot be greater than the penalty for the underlying crime.
“In this case, a first offense, nonviolent FACE violation, you only have a misdemeanor charge, up to one year in prison. So if they were to use that particular generic conspiracy statute, all they could get for the conspiracy part is another one year,” Crampton said, stressing that this is the first time he recalls a conspiracy charge in connection to a FACE charge.
“They dug deep in their little bag of tricks and found the conspiracy to Violate Civil Rights statute and charged us with that one, which carries a sentence up to 10 years,” Crampton said. “What was the civil right we were talking about with FACE? It was abortion. So now they’re going to pretend that the civil rights they’re dealing with, is the right to access to so-called reproductive health care. … Civil rights was always abortion, not the right to go in and get a pregnancy test. Nobody in the pro-life movement is going to engage in concerted activities to prohibit that action. So there’s all these little white lies that they’re using to try to throw the book at Paul and other folks since Roe v. Wade has been overturned.”
The conspiracy charge that some in this case face stems from using Facebook to communicate about meeting and live-streaming the group standing in the hallway.
Life and Death Consequences
Communist concentration camp survivor Eva Edl, 87, did not use social media in the Tennessee incident so she faces one year in federal prison. But the trial is not until January 2024. If she gets prison time, she will go in when she is 88 or 89.
“You know, I’m just going to continue, no matter what. I’m going to continue saving lives,” Edl told the FBI when they knocked on her door. Then she asked the agents, “Do you know Jesus?”
Edl has been arrested for blockading abortion clinics more than 50 times over the last 35 years. Her childhood trauma, being taken from her Yugoslavia home to one of the communist concentration camps that operated after the Second World War, motivates Edl to be a voice for the voiceless.
“When I was on the cattle car with all my people, and we were shipped to the death camp to be exterminated, the people around us were not in agreement with what the government did. But they were intimidated,” Edl told The Epoch Times. “But as Christians, if we really believe in Jesus Christ, that is no excuse. We have to overcome that fear and do what is right anyhow. Then he helps us through it. I just wish, in those days, that somebody would have cared enough to go to in front of that gate and stand on those railroad tracks and say, ‘You cannot take these babies and children unless you go over our dead bodies.’”
If only a few people stood up, the train would have probably crushed them, she said. If thousands would have stood up, the government would probably would have made an example of a few, she said. But then they would have had to stop, or else the population would have risen in protest against the brutality.
“Same here. If we are just a few, we might be crushed. But if more and more would just lay down their lives and be willing to at least go to jail to protect these babies, we would have more success. But then, who knows what the Lord will do. He may honor even the sacrifice of the few. I’m always hopeful.”
‘Speak the Truth’
Just because the government says abortion is legal doesn’t mean it is right, Edl said.
“It is not right. If it is right for the American government to legalize the killing of innocent human beings inside the womb, then why do we condemn the Nazis who also legalized the extermination of born people—Jews, Gypsies and other unwanted individuals? Why do we condemn the communist government of Yugoslavia who exterminated my people? If it is a good thing to kill human beings just as long as the government says so, then we have no right to condemn anybody else. But we all know deep down that these things are evil,” Edl said.
“Nobody’s life is ultimately safe in a nation ruled by someone who does not respect all human life, from conception to natural death. It will just depend who is in power and whose whim will dictate who is permitted to live and who is going to be exterminated.”
She sees mighty forces at work in the Unites Stated, pushing “woke” ideology and manipulating speech. It looks like communism or a one world order, trying to destroy the nation, she says, and people must not ignore it.
“Speak the truth. And pay the price,” Edl said. “Otherwise you’re going to pay a price even worse.”
“Tennessee and Arkansas, they have quit murdering babies. All their surgical facilities are closed, and the feds are most unhappy about that,” Calvin Zastrow, a sidewalk preacher from Michigan charged in the Tennessee incident, told The Epoch Times. “So, what can they do to discourage individuals, groups, churches, state legislatures and whole state cultures? What can they do to discourage that activity of saving babies? Okay, well, let’s find some folks and really lash out at them.”
The ratcheting up of penalties against the pro-life community has a psychological effect on the culture, Vaughn said. It breeds fear and makes people reluctant to speak.
“Someone that might have potentially gone out to the abortion clinic and felt like they wanted to go help somebody in need, now is going to think twice about it,” Vaughn said. “Someone that may want to speak up about any other type of thing, maybe election fraud, or any number of things—a politician misusing their power, a police chief misusing their power—we might normally go to the next county commission meeting and call them out. But now, knowing the environment we live in, everything is being weaponized against free speech. They may have second thoughts about doing that. And that adds another step to losing the freedoms that we cherish so much here in America.”
While they would rather not be locked up, those facing prison in the Tennessee case seem at peace with the possibility.
“It’s all on the altar for me,” Zastrow, a father of four, said. “I’m prepared for them to charge me with 11 years in prison and take all my property away. I made the mental and spiritual decision. … It’s all an act of worship to Christ.”
Life in Prison
At 58, Heather Idoni says it is possible that she will die in prison.
“So far, I’m the only one with two sets of charges, 11 years for each. So, I could be looking at the rest of my natural life in prison, which I’m willing to accept, if that’s what God wants,” Idoni told The Epoch Times. “I must have a heck of a ministry coming, to talk to the women there. I know babies’ lives have been saved that way, in the jails. We have a captive audience. A lot of Christian ministries have not even been able to get into the jails again since COVID.”
Idoni, of Livingstone, Michigan, participated in the Tennessee event and was charged for her presence at another abortion facility in October 2020 in Washington D.C. Between the two sets of charges, she could face 22 years in prison. She is a bookstore owner and a mother of 16, including 10 orphaned boys she adopted from Ukraine.
“My defense of the unborn has come from simply wanting to obey God and understanding Proverbs 24:10–12,” Idoni said.
This Bible verse says: “If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength! Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?”
That same verse struck Coleman Boyd, 51, of Bolton, Mississippi, an emergency room doctor and father of 12.
“What hit me was, I know where that’s happening. There was an abortion mill in Jackson, Mississippi,” Boyd told The Epoch Times. “I never thought about it. I mean, I was, ‘pro-life,’ I was against abortion because I knew it was wrong. But it never hit me that people were being murdered. And what should good Christians do if people are being murdered? They should act. Well, as I continued to read, Proverbs 31 says, ‘Open your mouth for the speechless in the cause of all who reported destruction. Open your mouth, defend the innocent.’”
Through that, Boyd’s family started sidewalk preaching in 2007. Boyd also faces 11 years in prison for FACE violations in Tennessee.
“Abortion is the central sin of our nation—the shedding of innocent blood—and that’s going to bring destruction on our own our nation and future generations, as much or more than anything going on with our country,” Boyd said.