Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 24, 2023 / 16:30 pm (CNA).
A Catholic priest who blocked access to a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic could face up to one year in prison after being found guilty Monday of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, also known as the FACE Act.
On the morning of July 7, 2022, Father Fidelis Moscinski, 52, a priest of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, effectively shut down the Planned Parenthood of Greater New York clinic in Hempstead for about two hours, according to the DOJ. He placed locks and chains on the gated entrance and covered some of them with glue, which prevented anyone from getting through the gate. After the fire department and the police department eventually cut through the locks, Moscinski laid down in front of the entrance to prevent cars from going through the gate, a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
On Monday, the court delivered a guilty verdict from the bench. Post-conviction motions must be filed by Feb. 7, and the sentencing is scheduled for 2 p.m. on April 24.
"The defendant attempted to prevent women from accessing their legal right to vital reproductive and pregnancy services," United States Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement on Sept. 29, 2022, after Moscinski was charged.
"This office will enforce federal law to protect clinics and staff that provide reproductive health services while safeguarding the rights of their patients. I commend the local police, firefighters, and bystanders who came to the health center's aid to ensure that it could continue serving the community."
In an interview with EWTN on July 16, 2022, Moscinski acknowledged that he blocked access to the clinic so he could "talk to the mothers who were coming in that morning."
"Imagine if you were one of those children scheduled to be executed that day," Moscinski said. "Would you not want every possible effort to be made to save your life? And saying that something is a step too far is simply saying, 'Well, some lives are less valuable than others; we could sacrifice only up to a point and then we'll let these others die.'"
The sentencing will be before Magistrate Judge Steven Tiscione.
Pro-life community commends Moscinski
Some members of the pro-life community commended Moscinski for his actions at the abortion clinic and criticized those who would put him behind bars.
Michele Sterlace, the executive director of Feminists Choosing Life of New York, told CNA that the law is "unjust" and the pro-life movement should work to change laws to "protect innocent human lives." She cited the overturning of Roe v. Wade as an effective example.
"People like Father Fidelis that have such courage, that we are in absolute awe of, they're well aware of the consequences they may potentially face," Sterlace said. "Father Fidelis is a smart, courageous individual … [who] was there to protect the lives of unborn human beings."
Monica Migliorino Miller, the director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, also praised Moscinski's actions.
"When Father Fidelis chained the gate shut on the Planned Parenthood abortion center he performed an act completely appropriate in response to the impending extermination of innocent human persons," Miller told CNA.
"A true, glorious nonviolent act of love and defense against the killing of the unborn," Miller continued. "Father also sought to reach out to the women coming to the abortion center. The only reason he is convicted of the unjust FACE law is because in New York the unborn count for nothing as Father was denied a 'defense of others.' We can hope that Father's heroic action will inspire others to rescue the unborn. We must be their voice."
The FACE Act
Moscinski was found guilty of the FACE Act, legislation passed in 1994 to grant protections to reproductive health care centers including abortion clinics and pro-life counseling centers. According to the DOJ, a person is guilty if he or she engages in "violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with an individual's right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services."
According to the DOJ, first-time convictions are misdemeanors, which can carry up to one year in federal prison. All subsequent convictions are felonies.
In New York, abortion is legal up to the 24th week of pregnancy. However, abortions are legal past that point if the woman's life or health is at risk or if the preborn child is not viable.
Moscinski has garnered media attention in recent years for his prayerful protests in the face of pro-abortion opposition and his work with the group Red Rose Rescue. In 2021, photos of the procession at Brooklyn's Witness for Life day of prayer showed pro-abortion advocates shouting, holding signs, and smoking cigarettes in the face of a calm Moscinski.
The priest has served jail time for his Red Rose Rescue efforts before. Typically, a rescue involves a pro-life advocate entering the waiting room of an abortion facility to offer a red rose along with pro-life literature.