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Four Anti-Abortion Activists in Tennessee Sentenced for 2021 Clinic Blockade, Receive Lighter Penalties Despite Prosecutors’ Push for Harsher Terms


Nashville, Tennessee — Four people who are against abortion were found guilty of criminal conspiracy in January for their part in a 2021 clinic blockade in Tennessee. They were given sentences this week that ranged from six months to three years of supervised release. Prosecutors wanted harsher sentences, but U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger gave lighter ones because she knew how much good the defendants had done in their neighborhoods.

The judge understood that they did what they did because of strong religious views, but that was no reason to break the law. Trauger said that the accused used their religious zeal to “permit themselves to ignore the pain they caused other people and ignore their own humanity.”

Before the sentencing hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday, about 200 fans, many of whom were parents with children, gathered outside of the federal courthouse in Nashville to protest and pray. Also, a courtroom where the events were shown live on TV was packed to the brim, with people sitting on the benches, on the floor, and in the hallway.

The findings are related to a blockade at the Carafem reproductive health clinic in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, a town 17 miles (27.36 kilometers) east of Nashville. This happened almost a year before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. According to the testimony, the organizers used social media to promote and livestream activities that they thought would stop the clinic from doing abortions. Trauger found that they also planned for other activists to use the movie as a way to learn.

Tennessee still let people have abortions at that time. It is now against the law at all times of pregnancy, with only a few exceptions.

Eleven people were found guilty of crimes connected to the blockade. Six people were found guilty of breaking the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and more serious criminal conspiracy charges for their roles as organizers. These four were sentenced this week. The defendants’ lawyers said that the prosecutors went too far when they charged them with a felony that could get them up to 10 years in jail and fines of up to $260,000.

In the end, Trauger asked for terms that were a lot lighter. Dennis Green and Paul Vaughn were given three years of controlled release. Coleman Boyd was thrown out for five years. Calvin Zastrow was given a 6-month prison sentence followed by three years of supervised release. He was thought to be one of the key organizers. Boyd was the only one of the four that Trauger said could pay the fine, so he had to do it.

Trauger had already agreed to put off punishment for the last two felonies until September. Both Heather Idoni and Chester Gallagher were getting ready for their trials in Michigan in August on similar charges. Idoni is in prison for two years for blocking a clinic in Washington, D.C. in 2020.

Caroline Davis, one of the defendants, pleaded guilty to minor charges in October and worked with the police. In April, she was given three years of probation. In April, four more people were found guilty of misdemeanor crimes for blocking the main clinic door so that patients could not get in. They refused to leave or move several times when police asked them to, and they were finally arrested. A report from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee said that they would be sentenced on July 30 and could face up to six months in jail, five years of supervised release, and fines of up to $10,000.

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