Pro-lifers Off to Federal Prison: Enduring the Abortion Distortion

Pro-lifers face a justice system that inherently denies the very existence of the unborn.

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“This case is not about abortion. This case is not about the defendants’ personal beliefs. It’s about violent obstruction of access to reproductive health care.”

This was the preamble boldly pronounced by federal prosecutors each time one of eight convicted pro-lifers appeared before Washington, D.C., federal judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who sentenced them to serve time in prison. The first six words say it all: “This case is not about abortion.” As someone who has also been put on trial, been convicted, and even served a few jail terms for pro-life rescues, I know very well the insanity of the legal system when it comes to the abortion issue. It’s simple—the unborn simply do not exist. A judge once denied our motion for a “defense of necessity” by arguing that since abortions were a constitutionally protected right “no injury is caused when abortions are performed of which this court need take notice and it is unreasonable for defendants to believe that their actions were necessary to prevent such harm.” 

And so, pro-lifers, arrested for their participation in rescues of the unborn, must endure the contrived and artificial fantasy world of the pro-life trial—or as one of my favorite attorneys calls it, “the abortion distortion.” And this distortion was on full display in the August and September 2023 trials of nine pro-lifers who conducted a rescue at the Washington, D.C., Surgi-Center where abortionist Cesare Santangelo kills unborn children through the ninth month of gestation.

This particular rescue took place on October 20, 2020. Its organizers, Lauren Handy and Jonathan Darnel, fashioned it as a “traditional rescue”—the type of rescue in which pro-lifers place their bodies in front of the entrance to the abortion center or the hallway leading to the “procedure” rooms—as opposed to a Red Rose Rescue that does not engage in any type of blockade. Indeed, this D.C. rescue went a step further in that some of the rescuers actually wrapped themselves together with bicycle locks and chains to prolong their life-saving efforts. 

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The pro-lifers anticipated that they would be charged with the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton on May 20, 1994, with at most a one-year jail term. However, the Department of Justice, under the rabidly pro-abortion Biden administration, brought an additional charge, namely, “conspiracy to interfere with civil rights,” that carries a maximum ten-year jail term and a $250,000 fine. This latter charge against pro-lifers is unprecedented in the history of the pro-life movement! These rescuers certainly did not expect it. 

The Sentencings

Convicted last year of both counts, eight of the pro-lifers were sentenced—three on May 14, another three May 15, and one on May 22. Paulette Harlow will be sentenced May 31st. As the principal organizer, Lauren Handy received the harshest sentence of 57 months (four years and nine months). Next harshest was Jonathan Darnel, with 34 months. Joan Andrews Bell, Jean Marshall, Will Goodman, and Herb Geraghty, a woman who identifies as “non-binary,” received 27 months; Heather Idoni was sentenced to 24 months, and John Hinshaw, with the least prison time, received 21 months. 

All of them will be granted credit for nine months of their prison time as they were taken directly into custody upon their convictions. Why were they taken directly into custody? As Kollar-Kotelly always declared at the start of each sentencing: “The jury found that physical force was used in the obstruction of reproductive health care.” Thus, anyone convicted of a violent felony must be taken directly to jail to await formal sentencing.

In what sense could these pro-lifers, all of whom are dedicated to peaceful, nonviolent interposition in defense of the unborn, be found guilty of violence in their obstruction of “reproductive health care”? 

Two Opposite Views of Reality

The nine pro-lifers were divided into three separate trials. The first five were tried in late August, the next three tried in mid-September, and Paulette Harlow tried alone in late September. The author of this article attended the first two trials, heard all the testimony, saw all the exhibits, watched all the video clips of the rescue over and over again—clips from the abortion center security cameras and the police body cams. I was witness to the distorted view of reality presented by the prosecutors and affirmed by the judge. 

Let’s begin with Santangelo’s actual abortion practice. When Lauren Handy took the stand, she explained to the jury her motivation for conducting the rescue at the Washington, D.C., Surgi-Center. Handy was influenced by the 2013 undercover video produced by the pro-life group Live Action. In the video, Santangelo describes his late-term abortion method: that he cuts the baby’s umbilical cord. The interviewer, passing herself off as someone seeking a late-term abortion, asks Santangelo if there are any complications, such as the fetus possibly being born alive. On the video, he admits that occasionally live-births do occur. The interviewer asks him what he does in such cases. He said: “Nothing.” In other words, Santangelo simply allows such babies to die from neglect. 

Handy’s attorney Martin Cannon hoped to submit the video into evidence, at least to demonstrate the foundation for Handy’s personal beliefs that Santangelo was engaged in illegal abortion procedures—hoping to show the video to the jury. Kollar-Kotelly denied the request, calling the Live Action video “propaganda” edited for effect from a much longer video. When Cannon asked that the entire video, “B roll,” be shown to the jury, the judge also ruled against this as Handy had never seen the “B roll,” and, furthermore, the video would prove too “prejudicial” to the jury! Kollar-Kotelly, who supposedly watched the entire Live Action video, even declared that the “clean” version never indicated that babies were occasionally born alive in Santangelo’s abortion procedures—when, indeed, he says exactly that!

On March 25, 2022, Lauren Handy and Terrisa Bukovinac were present on the sidewalk outside of Santangelo’s abortion center. The Curtis Bay Medical Waste van arrived. Seizing the opportunity, they asked the driver to give them the boxes from the abortion center, and he granted their request. The boxes contained the remains of 115 unborn children killed by Santangelo. One hundred and ten of them, killed in the first trimester, are already buried in a private Virginia cemetery. But five of the unborn children were very large, killed in late-second-trimester, or even third-trimester abortions. Handy and Bukovinac suspected that some or all of them were killed in illegal abortion procedures, and thus, their bodies were turned over to the D.C. Medical Examiner’s office—where they remain to this day. 

But the jury would never be told about these aborted babies, much less be allowed to see photos of their mangled and dismembered bodies. Kollar-Kotelly stated that “the medical examiner didn’t find that any illegal abortions were committed on these five.” Cannon correctly pointed out to her: “The medical examiner didn’t conduct full autopsies,” meaning that in over two years no full investigation has ever been conducted. But the jury would never be told about these aborted babies, much less be allowed to see photos of their mangled and dismembered bodies. Tweet This

The pro-lifers were accused of “rushing the door” to the waiting room, with the judge describing Jay Smith as “particularly violent.” Here’s what happened. By way of security cameras in the hallway leading to the door of the abortion center, clinic staff was already alerted to the impending “obstruction.” When some of the pro-lifers, such as Paulette Harlow, her sister Jean Marshall, and Joan Bell attempted to enter the door, three clinic staff members, including the clinic manager known by her trial pseudonym “Tina Smith,” rushed the door from the inside and tried to push it closed against the rescuers.

The waiting room video clearly shows Smith emerging from the door leading to the back rooms brandishing a broom with the handle pointed toward the rescuers as they “breeched” the threshold. Smith forcefully jabbed the pro-lifers with the end of the broom handle in an attempt to push them back into the hallway. But to counter this assault, pro-lifer Jay Smith, yelling “stop attacking us,” pushed the door open, causing a clinic worker to stumble and sprain her ankle. Will Goodman explained in his sentencing statement that Jay “tried to prevent the door slamming on two elderly pro-life women, not an act of offense, but an act of defense.”

The question is—with Smith jabbing the pro-lifers with the end of the broom handle, who was actually deliberately violent? Kollar-Kotelly consistently denied over and over again that Smith used the broom as a weapon. Indeed, according to the judge, Smith never jabbed anyone with the broom but only used it horizontally as a “barrier to prevent the clinic invasion.” As for Jay Smith, weeks before the trials began, he decided to plead “guilty” to the charges, taking all the blame upon himself for the staff member’s sprained ankle. He was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison.

The clinic worker who sprained her ankle submitted a “victim impact statement,” which the judge read to each defendant: “this worker has residual effects, emotional and psychological, still feels the traumatic effects to the point that she felt she could no longer work at the clinic fearing such clinic invasions in the future.” 

A pro-life rescue caused this worker emotional and physiological trauma—but killing the unborn well into the ninth month of their lives apparently produced no such negative effects.

The most egregious distortion of reality had to do with the actions of Jean Marshall. If there was an error in the timing of this rescue, it had to do with the day chosen on which to conduct it—on what is referred to as “the third day.” The third day is the last day of the late-term abortion procedure—and it is the day that the unborn child is already dead and women return to have Santangelo induce labor and “deliver” their dead children. Ideally, if there’s a chance to persuade such women to choose life, pro-lifers need to be at the abortion center on the “first day.” Nevertheless, women seeking to abort in the first trimester also arrived at the center—and indeed, captured on video, one such woman who got off the elevator graciously accepted a pro-life pamphlet from Joan Bell. 

However, two other women also arrived, both well advanced into their pregnancies—arriving on their “third day.” One of these women, an immigrant from India, got off the elevator with her husband. Her court pseudonym was Shanty Hollar. By now, the clinic staff door across from the elevators was blocked by Heather Idoni and another rescuer who was never identified nor arrested. Suddenly, Hollar, apparently already experiencing labor pains, slumped to the floor. Goodman was alarmed, entered the waiting room, and brought Hollar’s condition to the attention of Smith, the abortion center manager. He said, “I think there’s a problem with a patient in the hallway,” to which Smith responded: “There’s no problem, the only problem is with you!” 

Goodman went back into the hallway and then made a decision. Caught on video, he reenters the abortion center waiting room. Only a few seconds later, you see Jean Marshall exit the clinic door. It is apparent that Goodman summoned Jean, who is a registered nurse, to attend to Hollar. Jean immediately goes over to Hollar and stoops down. There is no audio, but the video clearly shows Jean tenderly stroking Hollar’s cheek, gently patting her hand and her knee in gestures of compassion for this woman. 

Goodman said in his sentencing statement that Jean told the woman’s husband to call 911, but he refused the advice. As Jean rose to get up, she placed her hand on Hollar’s shoulder. Unbelievably, prosecutors and the judge accused Jean of shoving Hollar to the floor to prevent her from getting up! Indeed, during the sentencing of Goodman, Kollar-Kotelly even accused Marshall of “accosting” Hollar “as she pushed her down on the floor.” 

We all watched the same video; yet the government deliberately smeared Jean—accusing her of violence toward Hollar—when it was perfectly clear that Jean showed this woman tenderness and concern.

Unfortunately, Jean never took the stand to explain why she “pushed down” on Hollar’s shoulder. Jean decided not to testify because she was afraid that she’d implicate others in the “conspiracy.” Yet, there are at least two plausible explanations. One, offered by her attorney at sentencing, explained that Jean—who is in need of hip replacement—when attempting to stand up, steadied herself by placing her hand on Hollar’s shoulder to avoid falling onto the pregnant woman. Goodman, not present at Jean’s sentencing, and who also did not testify at his trial, explained during his sentencing statement that Jean’s shoulder gesture was in response to Hollar attempting to get up and Jean advising her not to, saying, “in your condition it is best not to move.” 

As for the other visibly pregnant woman—with the pseudonym “Ashley Jones”—unable to access the abortion center, she cried out, “Why are you doing this to me?” Of course, her unborn child might ask the same question of her. Jones, however, did manage to enter the abortion center, as the main door to the waiting room was never actually blocked. But once inside, Jones could not enter the “treatment” area as the door to that section of the abortion center was blocked by rescuers who sat in chairs in front of it. So desperate to complete the abortion procedure, Jones crawled through the receptionist window. 

Concerning these two women, Heather Idoni was particularly castigated by Kollar-Kotelly, who said: “The co-conspirators recognized that these women were experiencing a medical emergency, but the co-conspirators didn’t allow them to go back to see the doctor who was just on the other side of the door.” Well, in the two views of the one rescue—apparently the judge wasn’t aware, or deliberately lied. The fact is—Dr. Santangelo wasn’t even there!

At each of the eight individual sentencings, the judge delivered the same prepared speeches. The first speech was a lengthy, detailed narrative of the pro-lifers’ crimes for which they were convicted and each time started with the words: “Co-conspirators successfully schemed to disrupt access to reproductive health care…” Now, you know if someone “schemes” to do something, what they’re up to has got to be bad. Indeed, all of the jargon used to characterize the pro-lifers was intentionally negative: they “invaded,” they “rushed” the door, they “pushed” their views on others, they “deprived” others of their civil rights, they “conspired,” and “hid” themselves in a stairwell to gain entry into the clinic. 

However, the pro-lifers had to suffer even worse humiliations. Those who testified in their trial were cited by the judge for “obstruction of justice”—meaning that their testimony was considered to be untruthful. I scratched my head, wondering in what sense any of these pro-lifers provided false testimony. Well, they didn’t! It turns out, according to federal court rules, if a defendant is convicted of the crime with which they are charged, testimony they provide in their defense is automatically considered false! And this “obstruction” counted against the pro-lifers as Kollar-Kotelly calculated the weight of their offenses determining the length of their sentences.

But the greatest humiliation came toward the end of the judge’s speeches. After receiving their respective sentences, each pro-lifer had to endure Kollar-Kotelly’s specially crafted reprimand. This speech began with her indicating that she rewatched the videos of Jones and Hollar and speaking to each defendant individually she said: 

and you showed them no compassion, two people who needed medical care, no empathy, you showed them no concern, everything cold, calculating, not a single kind word was spoken to them, no kindness, no gestures of kindness was shown to them. Your personal views took precedence over them as human beings.

So, not only did the pro-lifers “obstruct with force access to reproductive health care,” but the court judged them to be, in the end, heartless.

But great concern and kindness was shown by the pro-lifers, in particular to Shanty Hollar. In any case, Kollar-Kotelly’s words are full of tragic irony. This is a late-term abortion center, where no kindness is shown to the unborn children killed there by Santangelo—killed in despicable acts of violence, their dead bodies treated as so much trash. Certainly, it can be said of Santangelo and his staff that their own peculiar personal beliefs take precedence over the right-to-life of the unborn. 

The DOJ’s pre-sentencing document refers to Jones and Hollar as “vulnerable persons.” But the truly vulnerable persons are the innocent unborn delivered to a killer by their mothers. Helpless to escape, the children of Jones and Hollar were the ultimate victims—and their plight was deliberately kept hidden from the jury as if they didn’t exist. 

Any light in the courtroom came from the pro-lifers who chose to deliver a sentencing statement. John Hinshaw was particularly eloquent; indeed, his beautifully crafted address is a rhetorical masterpiece, quoted here in part:

During this unjust imprisonment I was gifted with another baby granddaughter, Charlotte Millie, a feisty little girl who was born early—32 weeks gestation. I know this court only considers her a “would-be child” at that age. At 32 weeks gestation she was at the same age as Phoenix, Harriet, Holly, Christopher X and Angel, the Washington five slain by Santangelo. They are named today in honor of their eternal dignity. What makes my granddaughter a treasure and these five trash?? How is this allowed? How is this allowed?! It is allowed by Courts covering up the crimes of Santangelo.… So from the depths of my cell I will continue to unite my cries with those of the children, whose cries rise nightly to their mothers’ ears, who weep, with Rachel, for their children who are no more.

And Heather Idoni, the mother of ten adopted children in addition to her four biological children, told the story of the ten Booms who, in Holland during the Nazi reign, hid Jews in their home. Idoni addressed the judge: 

One day a Jewish woman who had just given birth prematurely begged the ten Booms to hide her child. But they were concerned that, being an infant, the child might cry and give the others away. But they knew of a man, a pastor, whose house was located in a remote wood. They asked him if he’d take the baby. The man recoiled: “What!? Don’t you know you could lose your lives? We could lose our lives!” Mr. ten Boom exclaimed: “To lose my life for this baby would be my greatest honor.” Why was Shanty Hollar at the death mill? I believe it is in the record that she said her baby was missing its limbs. When I heard this, my heart leapt—and during my trial I cried out to God: “What an honor that I helped defend that baby.” All life matters. I knew then I had no regret that I was there that day. 

Poignantly, Will Goodman ended his sentencing statement reciting Scripture—the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth—“and the baby leapt in her womb for joy.”


  • Monica Miller

    Monica Miller, Ph.D., is the Director of Citizens for a Pro-life Society. She holds a degree in Theatre Arts from Southern Illinois University and graduate degrees in Theology from Loyola University and Marquette University. She is the author of several books including The Theology of the Passion of the Christ (Alba House) and, most recently, The Authority of Women in the Catholic Church (Emmaus Road) and Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars (St. Benedict Press).

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