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Trial of Mark Houck, pro-life advocate, begins with night of prayer

A woman attends a rally for Mark Houck outside the James A. Byrne United States Courthouse in Philadelphia on Jan. 24, 2023, while holding a sign that says "Justice for Mark Houck!" / Joe Bukuras/CNAPhiladelphia, Pa., Jan 24, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).Opening statements for the trial of Mark Houck, a pro-life advocate charged with violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, won't begin until tomorrow, but that didn't stop a crowd of about 50 supporters from gathering in front of the federal courthouse in Philadelphia on Tuesday to rally for Houck's acquittal.Houck, a Catholic father of seven, was arrested at his home in front of his terrified wife and children by federal agents last September and is being charged under a controversial law known as the FACE Act.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....
A woman attends a rally for Mark Houck outside the James A. Byrne United States Courthouse in Philadelphia on Jan. 24, 2023, while holding a sign that says "Justice for Mark Houck!" / Joe Bukuras/CNA

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 24, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Opening statements for the trial of Mark Houck, a pro-life advocate charged with violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, won't begin until tomorrow, but that didn't stop a crowd of about 50 supporters from gathering in front of the federal courthouse in Philadelphia on Tuesday to rally for Houck's acquittal.

Houck, a Catholic father of seven, was arrested at his home in front of his terrified wife and children by federal agents last September and is being charged under a controversial law known as the FACE Act.

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." More about the allegations, and the charges, can be found here.

Kathleen McCarthy, Houck's mother-in-law, spoke at the rally and talked about his courage and faith through this time of trial.

"Mark Houck is the real deal," McCarthy said, fighting back tears.

The allegations in this case stem back to an incident that occurred at a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Philadelphia on Oct. 13, 2021. The federal indictment alleges that Houck twice shoved a clinic patient escort during a verbal altercation while a then 72-year-old man — identified in the indictment by the initials "B.L." — was attempting to lead clients inside the clinic.

Houck and his lawyers dispute the allegations, saying that he was just defending his son from being harassed by the clinic escort. Criminal charges were never filed with local law enforcement. The clinic escort filed a civil suit, but that was thrown out.

Almost a year after the altercation, Houck was arrested at his home in Kintnersville in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in the early hours of the morning and was charged with violating the FACE Act.

The rally Tuesday was organized by the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Coalition, a pro-life advocacy group. Attendees prayed and sang hymns while several speakers stood in front of the crowd with a microphone and gave testimony in support of Houck. Some members of the media were there as well as a police presence.

A longtime advocate for the unborn, Houck runs a Catholic men's ministry called "The King's Men," which aims to help men become better husbands, fathers, and leaders.

Father Jim Hutchins, a retired priest living in the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, who serves as the chaplain of the apostolate, showed up to support Houck.

Hutchins told CNA that he was praying that Houck would "receive justice" and compared the pro-life advocate to Rosa Parks, the civil rights activist who refused to give up her bus seat to a white man.

Also in attendance was Jack O'Brien, 87, who has worked on behalf of the unborn with The King's Men in the past.

Calling the FACE Act "phony" and an "obscenity," O'Brien said: "We think the charges are going to be dismissed."

Ryan-Marie Houck, Houck's wife, told CNA at the courthouse that the couple prayed before the Blessed Sacrament at eucharistic adoration all through the night on Jan. 23 in preparation for the trial, which is set to begin Jan. 25 at 9 a.m.

Brendan Whitaker, a Catholic and supporter of Houck who was also at the courthouse, told CNA that he was one of 40-50 people who joined the Houcks in prayer at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Sellersville, Pennsylvania.

Whitaker, of Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, said that about 25 people stayed and prayed past midnight and mentioned that the group prayed at least three rosaries and some other scriptural prayers.

Some of Houck's siblings were present at the court, along with members of his wife's family. The couple's children were not there.

The Houcks' teenage son, Mark Houck Jr., will, however, be taking the witness stand during the trial.

Houck is being represented by a legal team of four attorneys: Brian McMonagle of McMonagle, Perri, McHugh, Mischak & Davis; Peter Breen, Thomas More Society executive vice president and head of litigation; Michael McHale, Thomas More Society senior counsel; and Andrew Bath, Thomas More Society executive vice president and general counsel.

Representing the Department of Justice (DOJ) is Anita Eve from the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; Ashley Martin, also from the U.S. attorney's office; and Sanjay Patel from the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, criminal section in Washington, D.C.

Gerald Pappert is the presiding judge. Pappert said on Tuesday that jury deliberations could begin as early as Thursday.

See more photos from the rally below.

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