In an exclusive interview following his acquittal on federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE Act) charges, pro-life activist Mark Houck and his wife Ryan-Marie joined Live Action president and founder Lila Rose to discuss the events that led to the charges, as well as details of the trial.
Houck, co-founder and president of The King’s Men, a Catholic men’s outreach organization, is an active pro-lifer who is present outside of a Philadelphia Planned Parenthood business on a weekly basis, ministering to women and men there for two decades and saving at least 100 babies from abortion. A familiar face to the Planned Parenthood staff, Houck said they knew that he was effective in helping women choose life, and that awareness is what he believes led to the event that occurred on October 13, 2021.
“[M]y son and I were going into the city. It’s a great day for Mark Jr. and I,” explained Mark. “Two hours down, two hours back. Father-son time. … He loves it. He’s done 40 or 50 prayer vigils with me.” Mark Jr., age 12, accompanies his father to the sidewalk outside of Planned Parenthood where they help parents who are seriously considering abortion.
One such couple recently shared their own encounter with Mark.
“I had one hand on the door about to go into Planned Parenthood, and then Mark stopped us and he was like, ‘You guys don’t have to do this,’” recalled a new mother who had decided on abortion.
The baby’s father added, “Thank God he [Mark] was the extra push because she [his daughter] wouldn’t be here, we probably wouldn’t be together, I probably wouldn’t be here living on my own… I couldn’t even fathom it, honestly. And it’s like, that’s how much he means to me. .. The pro-lifers definitely were there for us every step of the way.”
As Mark and his son headed to the abortion facility that day in October 2021, they weren’t expecting anything out of the ordinary to take place. They had been there for about 45 minutes when Mark was walking a couple of women to the pregnancy center across the street from Planned Parenthood, and an abortion facility escort — whom he had known for 20 years — put himself between Mark and the women. After that brief tense moment, Mark went back to pray with his son about 50 feet away from the Planned Parenthood entrance, and the escort went back inside Planned Parenthood before returning and beginning to speak to Mark Jr.
The escort comes out, and they have a strict policy, which we learned in the trial, not to engage pro-lifers, activists, outreach, people doing outreach, but nonetheless, he disengaged from that policy and he came right up to my son, literally placed himself right next to him, violated his personal space, which he never does. He’s never done that.
And I said, ‘Hey, man you gotta, you gotta leave us alone.’ He was talking to me and I said, fine, you know, but I was ignoring him mostly. But then he starts talking to my son.
Now, he’s talked to my son before, but this time, he’s ignoring me and he’s talking to my son about me and he’s trying to get in his mind. He’s trying to get in: ‘Your dad hates women. Your dad’s hurting women. See what your dad’s doing.’ Now, look, you’re a father and you’re watching this all happen and my son shuffles away from him… like this is uncomfortable, scared, what’s happening here? He’s never done this before.
I said, ‘Look, you need to leave. You need to go back there.’ And I walk him back to where he normally stands and I think he’s gonna be compliant with that. I turn back to go back and be with my son. Next thing I know, he must have turned around and he starts talking to my son.
That’s when, said Mark, “I push him away from my son. It became a father’s right. It wasn’t First Amendment rights. It was dad’s rights, ya know?” At the time, there were no Planned Parenthood clients walking into or standing outside of the building. “He got what he wanted,” said Mark. “It was caught on camera.”
The escort fell to the ground before rising and going back inside. Mark and his son left to attend Holy Hour at a nearby church and cool down. When they came back, they gave a statement to the police officers who were there.
The escort filed a private criminal complaint a month later. The district attorney (DA), however, didn’t want to prosecute Mark, and neither did the Philadelphia Police Department because the incident was so minor, according to Mark. When the court dates arrived, the escort was continuously a no-show and ultimately, the case was dismissed by April 2022.
Then, just five days after the case was dismissed, Mark was served a target letter by the Department of Justice (DOJ), saying he was the target of a federal grand jury investigation and to have his attorney contact them right away. Mark secured Mark Heffron of the Thomas More Society to represent him. Heffron told the Assistant U.S. Attorney that Mark is innocent and there was case law in the district against indicting him. But, he tells them, if they do want to indict him, he’s peaceful and there was no need for an agent to be sent to get him. Mark would bring himself in.
Then the Supreme Court handed down Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022, and the assistant U.S. attorney stopped returning Heffron’s calls.
“The next thing we know… September 23rd, Friday morning at 6:45 in the morning, I got a quiche in the oven because it’s [homeschool] co-op day. […] So it’s dark in the fall in rural Pennsylvania at 6:45 in the morning… The children are all asleep. … The doorbell rings repeatedly at 6:45 over and over again. And I said, oh my gosh, it’s alarming the whole house,” explained Mark. “It was like, ‘Somone get hit by a car? Someone scared outside?’ Then there’s banging, really heavy banging and then I heard ‘Open up’. Now, this is apparently the FBI but at the time I didn’t know that. All they do is ring the doorbell, bang, and yell open up. … There [were] no sirens outside. I could not see anything. So I go to the door and I say, ‘Well who is it?’ And then there’s banging again, the doorbell again, ‘Open up, it’s the FBI.'”
Mark told the agents through to door to remain calm because there were seven children in the house. He opened the door, hands in the air, and said he saw about 15 police cars with five agents on his porch pointing M16s at him and at his wife as she came down the stairs. They had armored vests, ballistic helmets, ballistic shields, and battering rams. Behind them were state troopers with guns pointed. Unknown to Mark at the time, there were more men at the back door.
None of the agents told Mark why they were there and he realized, “Oh! You’re here because I rescue babies.” The agents were silent until Ryan-Marie pressed them. She explained:
I said, “Do you have a warrant?” and they said, “We’re taking him with or without a warrant.” I said, “No, that’s kidnapping at gunpoint. You can’t take somebody. I want to see the warrant. Who are you here for?” “We’re here for him.” “Who? He has a name. Tell me who you’re here for.” “Mark Houck.” “Okay, I want to see the warrant, like, you can’t just come and arrest somebody and not even say their name and not produce a warrant from a judge saying that you have permission to do this.”
They eventually gave me the warrant but they took him first, prior to getting the warrant.
Meanwhile, the couple’s seven children were terrified. “All of the children were screaming,” said Ryan-Marie. “My son was saying, ‘You can’t take him. He’s my best friend.’ My daughter Therese was really a mess after she saw the people in the back of the house… It was seven kids running around screaming and crying and grabbing onto my legs.”
Mark added, “[It was] an act of terror designed to humiliate, intimidate and instill fear in us and they’ve effectively done that with our children to this day, but [to] instill fear in pro-life America, right? Because this is now becoming an overreach of government.”
Once in custody, Mark was put in a belly shackle and his feet were shackled. He was chained to a table for six hours. They treated him, said Ryan-Marie, as a “domestic terrorist.”
But through the ordeal, Mark said he had “great peace. It’s the closest I ever felt to Jesus in my life.”
Eventually, Mark was released on a $10,000 bond and told to report for arraignment. Ten hours after the ordeal began, Mark was home. Following his arraignment on September 27th, more than three months went by before he heard from the assistant DA again. On January 6th, an email arrived with a plea deal offer for Mark — zero to six months if he pled guilty to violating the FACE Act. Facing 11 years if convicted, plus a $350,000 fine, it could have been easy for Mark to take that plea deal. But he and his wife both refused.
“We need to do this for the pro-life movement, explained Mark. “… Regardless of what’s best for our family, we need to do this for the greater good, for the common good.” They turned down the deal, shocking the assistant DA.
Ryan-Marie added, “God didn’t bring us to this moment to just bail out.”
Mark’s trial began on January 24th — the national day of prayer for the unborn. The jury in the largely pro-abortion region was comprised of numerous people who donate to Planned Parenthood and have accessed its “services.” But while the jury didn’t seem balanced, the judge did seem fair.
Following testimony, including that of Mark and Mark Jr., the jury returned deadlocked. One juror refused to discuss the case and after a few days, he was replaced with the alternate. Within an hour or two of calling in the alternate, on January 30, the jury came back with not-guilty verdicts. The jury determined that Mark’s motives for pushing the escort were not to block anyone from entering an abortion facility.
“[I was] so relieved and then I turned around and I looked at the judge and He said,’ Mr. Houck, you’re free to go.’ — Which were the best words to hear, but then I said, ‘Thank you, Judge,’ and he said, ‘Thank you, Mr. Houck.'”
Mark and Ryan-Marie are now looking ahead to the future. As Ryan-Marie explained, “We’re open to allowing God to use us however He sees fit.”
The couple will speak before Congress to share what happened to them at the hands of the DOJ. They will also be seeking out civil rights attorneys, and refuse to back down in the fight to expose what they call “evil” — the persecution of innocent, American citizens.