76-Years-Old Pro-Life Activist Sentenced to 27 Months in Prison for Blocking Abortion Clinic

Joan Bell, described as the “matriarch of pro-life activism,” received a 27-month prison sentence on May 15 for her involvement in obstructing access to an abortion clinic in October 2020.

Alongside her, six others, including Lauren Handy, who organized and led the event, also received sentences. These events, often referred to as “rescues,” aim to impede access to abortions and prevent women from going through with their appointments. Tactics employed during such events can differ; for instance, the 2020 incident involved the use of bike locks and other implements to obstruct access.

Ms. Bell, aged 76, was a trailblazer in the rescue movement and was described as an iconic figure by the Justice Department at her sentencing. D.C. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly sentenced her to 27 months in prison and ordered her to complete 100 hours of community service.

Ms. Bell informed the judge that she refused to fulfill her community service or adhere to probation terms because she viewed it as an admission of guilt, a stance she couldn’t morally endorse. In response, the judge warned her that failure to comply with the court’s sentencing could result in a return to prison and suggested that Ms. Bell might lose credit for time already served.

Ms. Handy, 30, was sentenced on May 14 and received 57 months for her role, the most out of the defendants who have been sentenced.

Jonathan Darnel, a 42-year-old military veteran sentenced just before Ms. Bell on May 15, received the next highest sentence of 34 months. Judge Kollar-Kotelly noted during a prior hearing that he helped organize the event, as well as live-streamed from the clinic’s location.

The sentences handed down to the seven defendants on May 14 and 15 were below the range requested by the DOJ for each individual. For example, the DOJ urged the judge to impose a sentence on Ms. Handy at “the high end” of the 63-78 month range. However, Ms. Handy herself requested a 12-month sentence.

Two of the ten defendants, Heather Idoni and Paulette Harlow, haven’t yet been sentenced. Jay Smith, 34, was the only one to plead guilty and was sentenced to ten months in prison in March 2023.

Each of the sentenced defendants received an additional 12 months for a count of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, a law passed under former President Bill Clinton.

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By Hunter Fielding
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