Abortion activists face 12 years in prison for graffiti

In the early morning hours of July 5, 2022, it seemed nothing out of the ordinary was happening in Hialeah, when workers arrived at a pro-life clinic called Heartbeat of Miami. But then they saw it: dozens of threatening messages scrawled in red and black spray paint: “IF ABORTIONS AREN’T SAFE NEITHER ARE YOU,” read one. “JANE’S REVENGE,” read another.

Three other Florida clinics that urged women not to have abortions were graffitied around the same time. 

For decades, pro-life forces have been accused of defacing abortion clinics and harassing their visitors. But last month, four abortion activists were accused of fighting back – defacing pro-life women’s health care centers in Hollywood, Hialeah, and Winterhaven. Three of them are facing 12 years in prison and up to $350,000 in fines while the fourth could spend ten years and 250,000 dollars in fines.

“This happened in the context of a wave of violence across the country and [workers] were honestly afraid,” said Ryan Gardner, an attorney for Heartbeat of Miami. “What happened here was intended to cause fear, and it had the intended result.”

Miamians have vastly different opinions on the graffiti and its aftermath. Some say the punishment is appropriate because the graffiti artists broke the law and did so with malice. Others feel that the punishment does not fit the crime, that the graffiti is a justified retaliation for what pro-life supporters have done for years. 

Authorities say the four people arrested violated the FACE Act (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act), a law passed in 1994 that the U.S. The Department of Justice website says “prohibits threats of force, obstruction and property damage intended to interfere with reproductive health care services.”

The FACE Act has mostly been used for charging individuals who attack abortion centers and their workers. In 2022 ten defendants were indicted in connection with a planned blockade of a District of Columbia abortion clinic. They bound themselves with chains and locks and physically obstructed clinic staff and patients during the blockade, which was live-streamed on social media. 

“It was originally put into place because of rampant anti-abortion and anti-choice activists who were actively harassing and blocking entrances to abortion clinics,” says activist August Spies, a member of the South Florida Anti-Repression Committee. “The fact that they’re using this law to turn it against pro-choice activists, it just tells you everything in our eyes.”

However some conservatives disagree, saying that the activists committed a crime, so they should be punished accordingly.

“I think vandalism of any kind at the end of the day is not permissible,” argues Jacob Aguirre, president of the College Republicans at FIU. “It’s against the law no matter what cause you’re supporting.” 

He does not believe the charges were political motives. 

“I think some people are gonna assume that they’re facing 12 years because it’s politically motivated prosecution of these protesters. But listen, at the end of the day, they’re being prosecuted for something that they did.”

However, Oscar Alvarez, president of the Young Democratic Socialists of America at FIU disagrees with this sentiment.

“I think that 12 years is a huge exaggeration for what that crime should be given,” says Alvarez. “This is an abuse of power on the part of our government.” 

FIU student, Khadija Badat, agrees: “Twelve years is crazy! It should barely even be a year. They should just have to pay for damages and then maybe do community service.”

An 18-year-old bartender, Miranda Gallardo, believes that,“if the roles were reversed, and it was a pro-life activist vandalizing an abortion clinic, then people might have different opinions about it due to a double standard.”

Officials from the three clinics either declined comment or did not return calls. At LifeChoice Pregnancy Center in Winter Haven, a worker declined to comment on the issue, citing an ongoing investigation. 

The Heartbeat of Miami in Hialeah is also pursuing a civil suit with some of the defendants, claiming not only threats to their staff but property damage as well. 

Spies, the activist, also claims that the defendants and their families were harassed and threatened by the FBI,“No one expects knocks from the FBI. No one expects the FBI to show up at your job. That’s a big part of the FBI scare tactics.”

An article from theintercept.com by Natasha Lennard confirms that one of the defendants, Annarella Rivera had her house raided by SWAT while her two children were home. She lost both her job as an ultrasound technician and her home.  

“Some folks had their homes raided with guns drawn, closing down the entire block,” says Spies. “Children had guns in their faces because one of the defendants is a parent. I mean, just horrible, stuff.”

Some conservative outlets have labeled the attacks “Jane’s Revenge” which is described by the Catholic News Agency as, “a calling card of sorts for dozens of pro-abortion vandals after the May leak from the Supreme Court.”

Izzy Canizares was born and raised in South Florida and is studying Digital Journalism as well as Theatre. They have had two journalism internships at Just Begin Magazine as a writer and WSFL Inside South Florida as a Production Intern.

Antonio Gimenez is a cybersecurity analyst and a journalist. He describes himself as a polemicist, essayist, and alchemist of ideas.