Two people are facing federal felony charges for vandalizing offices belonging to religious groups offering abortion alternatives to pregnant people in Florida, officials announced Tuesday.
Caleb Freestone, 27, and Amber Smith-Stewart, 23, were charged by a grand jury in Tampa on Jan. 18 with one count each of conspiracy against rights and two counts of violating freedom of access to clinic entrances.
The indictment against the pair was unsealed on Tuesday and alleges they targeted three so-called pregnancy help centers that offer abortion alternatives that include counseling, pregnancy testing, and ultrasounds.
On May 28, 2022, the pair and other unnamed co-conspirators allegedly traveled to one of the centers operated by the Archdiocese of Miami in Hollywood, between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, where they spray-painted the threat, “If abortions aren’t SAFE then niether are you.”
At the time of that alleged attack, the Supreme Court had not yet overturned abortion rights nationwide, but a draft opinion from Justice Samuel Alito had leaked that indicated they were poised to do so.
“We believe the intention of this vandalism was to scare and intimidate us,” Rebecca Brady, archdiocesan director of the Respect Life group, said at the time of the vandalism, adding that the culprits had been captured on surveillance footage, which was then shared with police.
A photo of the vandalism also shows the anarchist symbol and the words “JANE’S REVENGE,” referring to a militant pro-abortion group established after the Alito opinion leaked. A blog that purports to belong to the Jane’s Revenge group celebrates attacks on what they call “fake clinics,” including one in Hollywood.
Two days after the eventual release of the court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade on June 24, the pair were allegedly among a group that spray-painted another clinic in Winter Haven, east of Tampa. The vandalism included the words, “We are everywhere,” “WE’RE COMING for U,” and “YOUR TIME IS UP!!”
On July 3, they allegedly vandalized another facility in Hialeah in the greater Miami area with the same threat they left on the Hollywood clinic.
“The plan and purpose of the conspiracy was to attack reproductive health services facilities that provide abortion alternatives by spray painting threats of force or other intimidating messages on the property of the facilities, in other to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate the employees of those facilities in their ability to provide reproductive health services,” prosecutors wrote in the indictment.
The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act, is a 1994 law that makes it a federal crime to threaten or interfere with clinics that provide abortions or other reproductive health services.
Planned Parenthood has warned people seeking abortions that “crisis pregnancy centers” like the ones targeted in Florida “look like real health centers, but they’re run by anti-abortion activists who have a shady, harmful agenda: to scare, shame, or pressure you out of getting an abortion, and to tell lies about abortion, birth control, and sexual health.”
If convicted, prosecutors say Freestone and Smith-Stewart could spend up to 12 years in prison and be fined up to $350,000.
“I applaud our police and justice system for taking very seriously these instances of domestic terrorism against pro-life facilities,” Archbishop of Miami Thomas Wenski told BuzzFeed News in a statement. “Hate crimes of this sort should not be tolerated.”
No attorney information was listed for the pair in federal court records. Smith-Stewart did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent to a number listed by them in court records.
Published: 2023-01-25 21:35:15