The Epoch Times

Pro-Life Activists Face Decade in Federal Prison in State Where Abortion Now Virtually Outlawed

Pro-lifers face life-altering charges for trying to stop abortions, which are now almost totally illegal in Tennessee

By Beth Brelje

Jury selection is expected to start this week in Nashville, Tennessee, for six pro-life advocates facing up to 11 years in federal prison. They are accused of preaching from the Bible and singing church hymns while some of them blocked the door of a now-shuttered abortion facility.

The accused were attempting to convince women to change their minds, moments before walking into appointments on March 5, 2021, at Carafem Health Center in Mount Juliet, Tennessee to abort their babies.

In a strange twist, they are facing life-altering federal charges for trying to stop something that is now almost completely illegal there.

Initially, 11 people were indicted. One defendant had her charges dropped and will testify against the others; six face up to 11 years in prison and four could see a year in prison.

Timeline to Charges

The timeline is an interesting aspect of this case because the federal charges came so long after the alleged crimes. Here is the sequence of events:

March 5, 2021: Pro-life advocates visited Carafem Health Center in Mount Juliet. Some were charged locally with trespassing. They dealt with those charges and thought that was the end of it.

June 24, 2022: The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization said access to abortion is not a constitutional right, reversing Roe v. Wade. It moved abortion regulation to the states.

June, 2022: Carafem Health Center in Mount Juliet “pauses” in-person services “due to the state’s complete ban on abortion,” according to Carafem’s website.

July 8, 2022: President Joe Biden issued an executive order for his administration to address “the heightened risk” of getting an abortion. He formed the Reproductive Rights Task Force, a Justice Department-led group focused, in part, on enforcing the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act.

Aug. 25, 2022: Tennessee made abortion illegal, allowing rare exceptions only to prevent the death of the woman or serious, irreversible medical harm.

Oct. 5, 2022: FBI agents with guns drawn, pound on Paul Vaughn’s Centerville, Tennessee door as some of his 11 children were preparing to leave for school. The children watched FBI agents put handcuffs on their dad and put him in a vehicle. He was taken to Nashville, put in a holding cell, and charged with violating the FACE Act, and with “conspiracy to violate civil rights” for his participation in the March 5, 2021 event in Mount Juliet.

No warning

The charges came with no warning, one year and seven months after the pro-lifers had been in Mount Juliet. The FBI made numerous visits to participants at the same event in quick order after that. The Department of Justice charged six of them with conspiracy, for using Facebook to communicate or live-stream their activity. The conspiracy charge carries a sentence of up to 10 years.

The six are Mr. Vaughn, Chester Gallagher of Tennessee, Heather Idoni of Michigan, Calvin Zastrow of Michigan, Coleman Boyd of Mississippi, and Dennis Green of Virginia.

They and four others were also charged with violation of the FACE Act which carries a sentence of up to one year in prison.

The four charged with the FACE Act alone are Eva Edl of South Carolina, Eva Zastrow of Arkansas, James Zastrow of Missouri, and Paul Place of Tennessee. They will have a separate trial to be scheduled after the trial of the six is completed.

Ms. Idoni, 59, is already in prison for previous FACE Act charges. With two sets of charges, she faces up to 22 years in prison.

“I could be looking at the rest of my natural life in prison, which I’m willing to accept if that’s what God wants,” Ms. Idoni previously told The Epoch Times. “My defense of the unborn has come from simply wanting to obey God and understanding Proverbs 24:10–12.,” Ms. Idoni said.

The Bible verse says: “If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength! Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.”

If imprisoned, Mr. Vaughn’s youngest daughter, now a toddler, will miss his influence during her formative years. He said he and his wife have cried and prayed about the situation many times. “God is in control,“ Mr. Vaughn previously told The Epoch Times. ”He knows the beginning from the end. My children will see their dad at least had the courage to stand for what’s right.”

Ms. Edl, 88, is a communist concentration camp survivor. She has been arrested for blockading abortion facilities more than 50 times over the last 35 years. As a child, she was taken by train from her home in Yugoslavia to one of the camps that operated after the Second World War.

“When I was on the cattle car with all my people, and we were shipped to the death camp to be exterminated, the people around us were not in agreement with what the government did. But they were intimidated,” Ms. Edl previously told The Epoch Times. “I just wish, in those days, that somebody would have cared enough to go in front of that gate and stand on those railroad tracks and say, ‘You cannot take these babies and children unless you go over our dead bodies.’”

She views sitting in front of the door of abortion facilities as her way of standing on the train tracks. “Just because the government says abortion is legal doesn’t mean it is right,” Ms. Edl said.

FACE Act in Politics

The pro-life community of the 1980s and 1990s saw thousands of people protest at abortion facilities. Sometimes local authorities arrested participants for trespassing, which came with a minimal consequence many were willing to accept.

After former President Bill Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act into law in 1994, it became too costly, with the risk of a $10,000 fine and one year in federal prison.

Large protests at abortion facilities stopped, but some folks, like those charged, continued to regularly appear near facilities to attempt to engage women in life-affirming conversation. Most have been doing this for decades without major charges.

In the 10 years between 2011 and 2021, the Department of Justice criminally charged 17 people with FACE Act violations, according to the DOJ website. In the two and a half years between Jan. 2021 and June 2023, the DOJ charged 48 people with FACE-related violations.

“The department is also working to ensure that federal prosecutors across the country are equipped to bring FACE Act cases,” a June DOJ statement said. “Our National Task Force on Violence Against Reproductive Health Care has prepared training for state Attorneys General offices, which can similarly bring civil actions under the FACE Act.”

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) who has a record of supporting pro-life measures, says the FACE Act has been applied unequally.

“Approximately 70 percent of abortion-related threats of violence in the US since the Dobbs decision have been against pro-life groups and pregnancy resource centers, like the Hope Clinic for Women in Nashville, which was vandalized in the wake of the Dobbs decision,” Ms. Blackburn told The Epoch Times. “But rather than investigate and prosecute these left-wing activists, the Biden administration is weaponizing our justice system to target individuals who preach and protest outside abortion clinics. This is another example of Joe Biden’s two tiers of justice at work.”

In October, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Representative Chip Roy (R-TX) introduced legislation to repeal the FACE Act, which they call unconstitutional and easily weaponized.

“Our Constitution reserves general police power to the states,” Sen. Lee said in a statement about the measure. “Congress infringed on the state’s police power when they passed the FACE Act. The Biden DOJ has weaponized this constitutionally suspect law against pro-life sidewalk counselors while failing to protect pregnancy centers and churches from violent attacks. It’s time to repeal the FACE Act.”

The bill was co-sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Roger Wicker (R-MS), J.D. Vance (R-OH), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Josh Hawley (R-MO) and numerous lawmakers in the House.