Justly regarded as the most aggressive abortion defender to ever occupy the White House, President Obama has spent two years prosecuting pro-life advocates, using the Department of Justice as his weapon.
This campaign is so legally groundless that a federal judge recently ordered the DOJ to pay $120,000 to one of its targets, a pro-lifer caught peaceably distributing anti-abortion literature outside a Florida abortion facility.
When Mary Susan Pine was young, she had an abortion. The trauma and regret led her to become a pro-life activist, forming a nonprofit that tries to dissuade mothers from aborting their unborn children and provides women with pregnancy testing, sonograms, and post-pregnancy help.
Pine also engages in sidewalk counseling. Instead of protesting, as the court explains, she "approach[es] vehicles and pedestrians entering and exiting the [Presidential Women's Center] parking lot, engaging in conversations about abortion, and offering information and literature about 'life-affirming' alternatives to abortion and the resources available to pregnant women."
This is legal. So why did Eric Holder and the DOJ go after Pine? The court lays out the facts citing the testimony of the police officer present:
"A green sedan began to enter the PWC premises through the exit driveway. As soon as Ms. Pine noticed the sedan, she 'quickly started to walk faster towards the car' and stopped at the front side, causing the vehicle to stop. Immediately after the vehicle came to a stop, Ms. Pine approached the driver's window. The driver rolled the window down, and Ms. Pine proceeded to solicit the male driver and the female passenger. At some point during the conversation, Ms. Pine handed the passengers a pamphlet through the open driver's side window."
Obama's DOJ charged that this violated a 1994 law called the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances. The FACE Act places federal civil penalties on obstructing access to abortion clinics -- penalties that don't apply outside, say, a plastic surgeon's office, a gun dealer, or any other institution.
But passing in front of a car, talking to the driver from the side of the car and handing a pamphlet is not obstructing access. The DOJ, despite carrying on this case for a year and a half, never presented any evidence that Pine obstructed anyone's access or tried to.
One reason: The abortion clinic destroyed the surveillance tapes that presumably captured the encounter. It was the PWC's policy to destroy its surveillance tapes after a few weeks, but the DOJ had a perfect opportunity to review and preserve them because DOJ officials visited the PWC the day after the "incident" to begin building its case against Susan Pine.
When we throw in the fact that DOJ officials were in touch with the PWC even before the encounter in question, a picture begins to take shape: As soon as Obama and Holder came into office, they started working with abortionists, fishing for pro-lifers to prosecute under this law, however flimsy the grounds.
Judge Kenneth Ryskamp noted in his decision the oddness of the whole setup, calling it "curious that the Government failed to make any efforts to obtain the identities of the passengers who are the alleged victims in this case."
Judge Ryskamp speculated: "The Court can only wonder whether this action was the product of a concerted effort between the Government and the PWC ... to quell Ms. Pine's activities rather than to vindicate the rights of those allegedly aggrieved by Ms. Pine's conduct."
The judge found the DOJ's case so meritless that he issued a summary judgment in Pine's favor and late last month ordered the DOJ to pay $120,000 to Pine to cover her costs. "The Court is at a loss as to why the Government chose to prosecute this particular case in the first place," he wrote in his judgment.
But the prosecution of Pine must be understood as part of a broader DOJ campaign against sidewalk counselors. In late 2010, the DOJ brought a handful of these FACE cases. For instance, Dick Retta, an 80-year-old grandfather from Rockville who prays and counsels outside the Planned Parenthood office two blocks from the White House, is charged with obstructing a woman entering the building, and shouting after her, "Don't go in there. Don't let them kill your baby."
The federal judge in Retta's case has written, "the Government's Complaint could certainly benefit from the addition of some fuller factual allegations."
The Obama administration's zeal for these prosecutions, despite the lack of evidence, suggests that when it comes to abortion, at least, this president has real, if extra-legal, convictions.
Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.