Nine people who blocked access to an abortion clinic in Washington, D.C., in 2020 have been charged with federal civil rights offenses six months after the Justice Department signaled it would use a 1994 law to prosecute such cases across the U.S., the New York Times reports. Prosecutors said the nine used their bodies, furniture, chains and ropes to block clinic doors and livestreamed their actions on Facebook. The nine defendants were charged with engaging in a conspiracy to prevent the clinic from providing reproductive health services and to prevent patients from receiving those services, prosecutors said. They were also charged with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), a 1994 law that makes it a crime to threaten, obstruct or injure a person seeking access to a reproductive health clinic or to damage clinic property.
In September, Attorney General Merrick Garland signaled that DOJ would use the FACE Act to protect the constitutional right to abortion, days after a Texas law enacting a near-complete ban on the procedure went into effect. Mary Ziegler, a law professor at Florida State University College of Law, said the FACE Act had fallen into disuse during the Trump administration, leading to criticism from abortion rights supporters that it had become a “paper tiger” that was encouraging more aggressive actions outside abortion clinics. “It is significant that they’re actually using the FACE Act again in a fairly prominent way,” Ziegler said, adding that the charges send a signal to those who would block clinics that “there will be consequences as long as [President] Biden is in office.”