A Catholic speaker and author who regularly prays the rosary outside an abortion clinic in Philadelphia was charged Friday with physically assaulting a Planned Parenthood clinic escort last year.
Mark Houck, 48, of Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, is the co-founder and president of the Catholic ministry The King’s Men, which aims to give spiritual formation to Catholic men.
News of Houck’s arrest on Friday morning was widely shared on social media after another well-known Catholic speaker, Chris Stefanick, posted about it online. Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, told CNA about the arrest Friday.
“A SWAT team of about 25 came to my house with about 15 vehicles and started pounding on our door,” Ryan-Marie Houck said. “They said they were going to break in if he didn’t open it. And then they had about five guns pointed at my husband, myself, and basically at my kids,” she added.
She said that multiple agencies were present at the arrest and that she was handed a warrant after she requested to see it.
The FBI confirmed to CNA Friday that Houck was arrested outside his residence Friday morning “without incident.” In a press release, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said that Houck is being charged with a violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, more commonly referred to as the FACE Act.
The federal indictment says that Houck twice assaulted a 72-year-old man who was a patient escort at a Planned Parenthood clinic at 1144 Locust St. in Philadelphia on Oct. 13, 2021. First, Houck shoved the escort, identified only with the initials B.L., to the ground as B.L was attempting to escort two patients, the indictment says. Houck also “verbally confronted” and “forcefully shoved” B.L. to the ground in front of Planned Parenthood the same day, the indictment says. The indictment says that B.L. was injured and needed medical attention.
If he is convicted, Houck could face up to 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $350,000, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
The FACE Act “prohibits violent, threatening, damaging and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain or provide reproductive health services,” according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Violating the FACE Act is a federal crime and protects “all patients, providers, and facilities that provide reproductive health services, including pro-life pregnancy counseling services and any other pregnancy support facility providing reproductive health care,” according to the DOJ.
Ryan-Marie Houck told CNA that her husband prays the rosary outside one of two different Planned Parenthood’s every Wednesday and hands out literature to anyone who wants it. She said that praying outside the clinic is part of The King’s Men ministry.
“This was a gross over-reach from the ‘justice’ department with excessive use of force and trumped up allegations and our story needs to be told truthfully,” Ryan-Marie Houck said in a text. “These are false allegations.”
She said that he had his first appearance before a judge and was subsequently released on Friday. Her husband declined to comment, she said.
In a statement Jacqueline Romero, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said that there is no tolerance for violating the FACE Act.
“Assault is always a serious offense, and under the FACE Act, if the victim is targeted because of their association with a reproductive healthcare clinic, it is a federal crime,” she said in the press release.
“Our Office and the Department of Justice are committed to prosecuting crimes which threaten the safety and rights of all individuals,” she added.