Pro-Life Activists Stand Trial, Defend Innocence in Peaceful Protest

The fate of six pro-life activists facing 11 years in prison for an alleged conspiracy against rights over a peaceful protest at a Tennessee abortion facility in March 2021 lies in the hands of the jury as they began deliberations Monday.

The trial, held at the Fred D. Thompson federal courthouse in Nashville, Tennessee, reached its fourth day as lawyers for the defendants and the Department of Justice delivered their closing arguments.

The defendants—Chet Gallagher, Coleman Boyd, Heather Idoni, Cal Zastrow, Paul Vaughn, and Dennis Green—are accused by the government of violating the FACE Act and conspiring against rights.

The charges stem from a protest outside a Mount Juliet abortion provider on March 5, 2021. Demonstrators gathered in a hallway outside the Carafem Health Center Clinic, praying, singing hymns, and urging women against abortion.

Defense lawyers emphasized the peaceful nature of the protest, describing it as a “rescue.” They denied allegations of conspiracy to oppress, threaten, or intimidate anyone at Carafem.

Jodie Bell, Gallagher’s lawyer, stated that the group aimed to offer help consistent with their religious beliefs, focusing on “rescuing the unborn.” She highlighted the uncertainty of identifying women seeking abortions just by standing outside the building.

Lawyers for the defendants underscored that the group’s sole agreement was to “save lives” and emphasized the absence of yelling or weapons. They argued that if malicious intent existed, the group would have behaved differently.

Steve Crampton, representing Vaughn, criticized the government’s case, emphasizing its reliance on “inferences and innuendos” rather than evidence. He questioned the portrayal of a large crowd as inherently intimidating, cautioning against undermining the right to assembly.

Defense lawyers highlighted discrepancies in the testimony of Caroline Davis, who took a plea deal and testified for the government. They noted her demeanor changes and extensive preparation with the government before testifying.

In her closing statements, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Klopf likened the activists’ actions to blocking a polling location’s entrance, asserting that “something is not peaceful if laws are broken.”

The courtroom and overflow room were filled with roughly 70 attendees, mainly friends and family of the defendants, some traveling from Michigan, Mississippi, and various parts of Tennessee.