Prosecution rests case in Mark Houck trial, defense motions to dismiss the case
by Joe Bukuras
Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 26, 2023 / 17:45 pm
On the second day of witness testimony in the trial of Mark Houck, a pro-life father of seven charged with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, defense lawyers argued that the federal case against their client be dismissed.
Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judge Gerald Pappert himself raised that possibility, asking the prosecution at one point whether the federal law didn’t “seem to be stretched a little thin here?”
Before the court adjourned to consider dismissal, arguments from the prosecution and defense focused on two questions.
First, did Houck, a longtime sidewalk counselor outside of the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia, shove a volunteer clinic escort because he was trying to interfere with that escort’s provision of reproductive health services?
And second, did the clinic escort, 73-year-old Bruce Love — who was 72 at the time — instigate Houck to push him by harassing Houck’s son?
The allegations in the case relate to two incidents that occurred at the abortion clinic on Oct. 13, 2021. The federal indictment alleges that Houck twice shoved Love, once when Love was attempting to escort clients and again during a verbal altercation with Love in front of the clinic.
The FACE Act prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.”
The jury was shown a video of the latter of the two incidents that shows Love approaching Houck and his son as they were standing on the sidewalk outside the Planned Parenthood clinic. It then shows Love heading back toward the clinic while Houck points at the entrance of the building. Love then turns back one more time to approach Houck as he was making his way back to the street corner. Houck can then be seen turning and pushing Love, who then falls to the ground.
The defense argued Thursday that Love was saying degrading things to Houck’s son during the exchange, an accusation that Love denies.
Love said on the witness stand Thursday that he approached Houck twice that day to fulfill his responsibilities as a clinic escort and guide women if they wanted an escort. Part of his responsibilities, he said, is to tell the women that they don’t have to talk to “protesters” if they don’t want to. There are no women seen with Houck on the video evidence that shows the second incident. There is no video of the first incident.
During the prosecution’s questioning of Love, Love consistently denied saying anything to Houck’s son on the day of the incident.
Love told the prosecutor that the only thing he said to Houck on the day of the incident was “Is that a threat?” Love claims that he asked the question after Houck allegedly threatened to push Love in the street.
One of the prosecutors, Sanjay Patel from the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, criminal section, in Washington, D.C., said at the conclusion of the day that Love’s testimony alleging Houck had called Love a “murderer” and a “baby killer” proves that Houck pushed Love to interfere with his provision of reproductive health services.
It was never specified when over the past several years Houck allegedly said those comments.
Defense attorney Brian McMonagle of the law firm McMonagle, Perri, McHugh, Mischak & Davis questioned Love on the witness stand.
McMonagle asked Love: “Do you remember saying [to Houck], ‘Why don’t you go home and masturbate?’”
“How about ‘hey a**hole?’” he asked.
He also asked Love if he remembered saying to Houck’s son, “Do you see how your dad is hurting women?”
“‘Your dad doesn’t care about women.’ Do you remember saying that?” he asked.
“‘I want nothing to do with your religion,’” McMonagle quoted Love as allegedly saying.
McMonagle then asked Father Jim Hutchins, chaplain for Houck’s sidewalk counseling apostolate, The King’s Men, to stand up.
“Remember calling him a f**** ahole?” McMonagle asked Love, referring to Hutchins.
Love answered in the negative to all of the accusations.
Hutchins told CNA at the courthouse that Love is “lying through his teeth.”
The three witnesses who testified during the day said they saw Houck push down Love and that there was an argument or shouting happening.
One of the witnesses who was questioned, 31-year-old Steven Jeronimo, said that he didn’t remember exactly what Houck yelled but that he “did hear a mention of a kid.”
Ellen Weiss, 71, another witness whose first day as a clinic escort was on the day of the incident, also said Houck was “saying something about his son.”
Another witness, 39-year-old Tristan Dhan, said on the witness stand that he saw Houck, identified as the man who pushed Love, walking down the street with his son after the push.
When Love was asked by the defense if Houck shouted at him to “stay away from my son,” Love said that he didn’t recall those words, but that Houck might have said that.
At the end of the day, the defense asked the judge to dismiss the case, arguing that Houck was defending his son from harassment and that Love was the instigator.
Referencing the FACE Act, McMonagle said: “To give [Love] the cover of this statue is a disgrace.”
In a back and forth with the prosecuting attorney following the defense’s motion, Judge Pappert asked, “Doesn’t that statute [FACE] seem to be stretched a little thin here?”
The attorney, Patel, said FACE is not being stretched thin because the government has provided a case meeting every element of the act.
The judge said he would consider both arguments. The case could be dismissed as early as tomorrow, pending the judge’s decision.
McMonagle concluded by saying that the government’s case is “absurd.”
“That’s why you don’t see cases like this,” he added.