Catholic pro-life activist Mark Houck pleaded not guilty to federal charges on Tuesday after the FBI arrested him at his home in rural Pennsylvania last week in connection to an alleged altercation with an abortion escort outside an abortion clinic in October 2021.
Houck has been accused of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which makes it a federal crime to use force with the intent to injure, intimidate and interfere with anyone because that person produces reproductive health care. He pleaded not guilty to two counts in Philadelphia federal court on Tuesday.
His attorney, Peter Breen, said the case already made its way through the state court process and was thrown out but that the Biden Department of Justice took up the matter nearly a year later as a form of "political prosecution." Of the estimated 20 FBI agents who came to Houck’s home, Breen said the DOJ is treating the peaceful father of seven children "as if he was a drug lord or a mafia boss."
"If he was truly a danger to the community, they wouldn’t have waited a year to prosecute," Breen, vice president and senior counsel of the Thomas Moore Society, said outside the courthouse. "Serious questions need to be asked of the attorney general. What was he thinking? Why did they do this obscene show of force against a peaceful pillar of the community?"
"It put officers’ lives in danger. It put the Houck family in danger. And it was an utter waste of judicial resources and taxpayer resources," Breen said.
Breen said his team contacted the DOJ and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in June to inform them they had no case based on controlling precedent, but if they decided to indict, defense would present Houck willingly in response to a summons. Breen said the next notice he received was that his client was in custody.
"This is a political prosecution," Breen said. "And what’s clear from the Department of Justice at its highest levels, which is directing this case, [is] that they are trying to send a message to pro-life and people of faith: ‘Don’t mess with us.’ They want to intimidate — they want to cause good people like Mark to stop praying and counseling at the abortion clinics of our country. And that’s not going to happen."
The U.S. government alleges that Houck assaulted and "forcefully shoved" Bruce Love, a 72-year-old volunteer at a Philadelphia Planned Parenthood.
Breen, however, categorized the abortion escort as "extremely aggressive," saying Love was "harassing" Houck’s 12-year-old son before an "altercation ensued."
Meanwhile, Houck’s wife claims that between 25 and 30 agents raided her home with "guns drawn" on the family and, in front of her children, put Houck in "shackles."
"What in the world would possess the Department of Justice to send 20 or so heavily armed agents to this family’s home, violate the sanctity of that home, frighten the children and then drag their father away instead of allowing us to present him peacefully, which we had offered to do?" Breen said Tuesday.
FBI Philadelphia claimed that the defense’s portrayals of Houck’s arrest are inaccurate.
"FBI agents knocked on Mr. Houck's front door, identified themselves as FBI agents, and asked him to exit the residence," a statement obtained by Fox News said. "He did so and was taken into custody without incident pursuant to an indictment."
"Extensive planning takes place prior to the service of any federal warrant. The FBI then employs the personnel and tactics deemed necessary to effect a safe arrest or search," FBI Philadelphia added. "While it’s the FBI’s standard practice not to discuss such operational specifics, we can say that the number of personnel and vehicles widely reported as being on scene Friday is an overstatement, and the tactics used by FBI personnel were professional, in line with standard practices, and intended to ensure the safety of everyone present in and outside the residence."
Fox News' Krista Garvin contributed to this report.