Police say they are still investigating a violent assault on pro-life activists that took place outside a D.C. Planned Parenthood clinic in late July. But a closer look at the Metropolitan Police Department’s handling of attacks on pro-lifers raises questions about the lack of consequences for the attackers—and how safe it is for those engaged in pro-life work in the nation’s capital.
The most recent incident involved an attack on pro-life activists Terrisa Bukovinac and Mike Gribbin outside the Planned Parenthood Carol Whitehill Moses Center on 4th Street Northeast. Both Bukovinac and Gribbin have been advocating for the unborn in D.C. for several years, though they are affiliated with different pro-life organizations.
According to an MPD incident report obtained by The Daily Signal, two individuals approached the activists on July 22 outside the abortion clinic. A verbal altercation ensued, the report says. Then, one of the assailants assaulted Gribbin by “slamming” him to the ground and punching him several times.
That same Planned Parenthood clinic, about a 10-minute drive from Capitol Hill, has come under scrutiny before. The Daily Signal reported in January 2022 that a female patient was rushed from the abortion clinic to the emergency room in an ambulance, clearly in pain and struggling to walk.
Fracas on 4th Street
The July 22 incident began as Gribbin, Bukovinac, and their fellow pro-lifers were praying outside the Planned Parenthood clinic and offering sidewalk counseling to those approaching it, according to Gribbin. Sidewalk counseling is a pro-life practice, in which activists speak with those entering abortion clinics, often offering pregnant women resources about alternatives to abortion.
A man and a woman walking a dog began to shout at the pro-life group from across the street, Gribbin explained, saying that Bukovinac shouted back, at which point the attackers crossed the street.
The verbal exchange escalated until the female attacker threw coffee at Bukovinac. When Gribbin grabbed the woman’s arm to stop her, Gribbin said, the male attacker initiated a physical assault on him.
“I tried to fend him off, actually, but then he held on to me,” said Gribbin in an interview with The Daily Signal. “That’s where the viral video that people are seeing online starts up.”
Video footage of the incident shows an unidentified man grappling with Gribbin before slamming Gribbin to the ground. He then continues to beat Gribbin in the back and head as the pro-life activist attempts to rise. Bukovinac can be seen filming the incident and yelling at the assailant to stop. (A third pro-life activist appears to be filming the entire scene.)
The video shows Bukovinac recording the fight and the female assailant trying to slap Bukovinac’s phone out of her hand. Then, the woman swings at Bukovinac and pushes her on the sidewalk toward the street.
Meanwhile, the male assailant repeatedly yells “stay down” at Gribbin as the pro-life activist struggles to stand up and fight back. The male assailant then turned to an unknown person filming the entire incident and attempts to also strike that person.
Bukovinac and the couple argue as the man and woman walk away. It appears that they were from the neighborhood, as they were walking a small dog. The couple also appear to be pro-abortion, since the female assailant can be heard accusing the pro-life activists of hurting women.
“These children are being murdered every day here, and you have the f—ing audacity to come over here and assault us?” Bukovinac asks them.
Bukovinac is the founder of the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, a grass-roots activism organization comprising left-leaning individuals who are against abortion. She describes herself as a progressive, pro-life atheist.
Police told The Daily Signal that they are investigating the incident and cannot comment on whether they have identified the attackers.
Pro-Life Activism in DC
This is not the first time that pro-life activists have faced violent treatment for advocating for the unborn. In 2019, Gribbin was assaulted, allegedly by former Google employee Quinn Chasan, while Gribbin was chalking pro-life messages on the sidewalk near the same D.C. Planned Parenthood clinic.
Though D.C. police said in 2019 that the case remained under investigation, the MPD told the Daily Caller News Foundation in 2020 that the “United States Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute in this case.”
Gribbin sued Chasan—and Chasan filed a countersuit in 2020.
Earlier this month, the Metropolitan Police Department told The Daily Signal that the case was closed. “MPD applied for an arrest warrant, and the warrant was denied,” spokeswoman Kristina Saunders said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Signal as to why it declined to prosecute the case.
“[My lawyer and I] sued him, and then he countersued us for $5 million, and his complaints to the lawsuit were bogus,” said Gribbin. “Basically, we ended up settling outside of court.”
“They have the prosecutorial discretion to pick up whatever charges they want to,” Gribbin said of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “Let me put it this way: I think they would have picked up my case had the ideologies been reversed. Had a pro-lifer attacked a pro-abortionist, I would be facing serious charges.”
There is some precedent for Gribbin’s claim, though the incident did not take place in Washington. Armed FBI showed up at the Pennsylvania home of Mark Houck, a Catholic and pro-life father of seven, last September to arrest him and charge him with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act.
The charges were related to the moment when, outside a Pennsylvania abortion clinic, Houck pushed a pro-abortion activist who was antagonizing his son. Local authorities had previously dismissed the incident.
But led by Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division had charged 26 pro-life individuals with FACE Act violations in less than a year as a response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June 2022.
And Houck was one of them, though a jury ultimately found Houck not guilty of the DOJ’s charges in late January.
Gribbin believes that the recent incident outside the D.C. abortion clinic illustrates just how violent the pro-abortion ideology is. But he says the violence he faced is “nothing compared to the violence that the abortion industry and some abortion politicians perpetrate against unborn children every day.”
The nation’s capital is “certainly a challenging place to sidewalk counsel in front of abortion facilities or engage in any kind of street-level pro-life activism,” Michael New, a D.C. pro-life activist and an assistant professor of social research with the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America, told The Daily Signal.
“Many people that pro-lifers encounter outside the D.C. Planned Parenthood support legal abortion and are unsympathetic to our efforts,” he explained, pointing to the Chasan case, as well as to the D.C. police’s arrest of Warner DePriest, 29, and Erica Caporaletti, 22, for chalking “black pre-born lives matter” on the sidewalk in front of the same 4th street clinic in 2020.
DePriest’s arrest followed D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s commissioning of the “Black Lives Matter” slogan on the streets of the city. Though anti-police activists chalked “defund the police” next to Bowser’s street mural, no arrests were made.
And on Tuesday, a federal appeals court ruled that the pro-lifers’ allegations (that DC was selectively enforcing defacement laws) were plausible, and allowed the case to proceed.
“The government may not enforce the laws in a manner that picks winners and losers in public debates,” the D.C. Circuit wrote in its opinion, that also reversed the decision of a lower DC court. “It would undermine the First Amendment’s protections for free speech if the government could enact a content-neutral law and then discriminate against disfavored viewpoints under the cover of prosecutorial discretion.”
New, who has prayed outside abortion clinics for years, says he plans to continue his sidewalk advocacy regardless of threats of violence. Like many other pro-lifers and religious Americans, he believes that abortion is the killing of an innocent human baby.
“Despite the hostility we face, physical attacks on sidewalk counselors and prayer warriors are rare,” New said. “Furthermore, while there are many great pro-life ministries, there is no better way to build a culture of life than being a prayerful presence wherever abortions take place.”
Attacks on Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center
In June, a vandal or vandals dumped a bucket of red paint on the Washington, D.C.-based Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center, spray-painted the words “Jane’s Revenge” on the wall of the center, and egged the windows.
The pro-life pregnancy center, about a four-minute drive from the Supreme Court, offers baby clothing, baby food, and other resources to needy D.C.-area parents who come to the center hoping they can find help rather than resorting to abortion.
Director Janet Durig shared with The Daily Signal in October that the MPD had increased its presence around the center due to the vandalism. Though the center itself had increased security measures, she said at the time, there had still been several incidents involving a male beating on the center’s windows that had made her feel very uncomfortable.
The Daily Signal learned in October that D.C. police had suspended their investigation into the June vandalism pending further evidence. D.C. police confirmed in early August that investigation is still suspended pending further evidence. In other words, the vandal or vandals haven’t been found, and it is unlikely anyone is looking for them.
Durig isn’t angry with police. On the contrary, she expressed gratitude to authorities for doing “everything they could” to help the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center, even if the investigation is apparently over.
“The police have had our safety at heart,” she told The Daily Signal. “They inform us if they hear or know of events that might create problems.” On the first anniversary of the June 2022 Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, she said, “two police cars sat outside our building. Last year, the D.C. police department placed QR codes in our windows. These monitor how often patrol cars pass the building.”
“We are grateful for the officers and all they do to protect us,” she added, noting that her center hasn’t come under any kind of attacks since far-left protesters interrupted the center’s banquet in December. That event took place in Crystal City, a neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington.
Her center has never heard from the FBI, Durig said, though the attacks on her center appear to amount to violations of the FACE Act.
“There isn’t anything to say about national support,” she said. “It would be helpful if leaders who think certain lives are expendable take the time to learn firsthand what centers like ours do to help families.”
DC Stonewalls Probe
The city’s response to some of these incidents contrasts strongly with how Bowser handled the March 2022 discovery of five preemie-sized aborted babies’ bodies outside the Foggy Bottom-based abortion facility, the Washington Surgi-Clinic.
Washington Surgi-Clinic has been around since 1973 and aborts unborn babies “up until 26 weeks of pregnancy,” according to the clinic’s site. It is operated by Dr. Cesare Santangelo, an abortionist allegedly secretly recorded by a Live Action investigator discussing how he would allow babies to die if they were accidentally delivered during abortions.
The District does not have any laws that regulate how late during pregnancy a baby can be aborted. And so when the babies’ bodies were originally brought to light (by Bukanovic and her fellow Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising colleague Lauren Handy), D.C. police originally shrugged off the matter.
Ashan Benedict, the MPD’s executive assistant chief of police, went so far as to tell reporters in April 2022 that the babies appeared to have been aborted “in accordance with D.C. law.”
Police have repeatedly told The Daily Signal since then that the case is still “under investigation.” Authorities will not share whether autopsies have been performed on the babies’ remains. The MPD confirmed in early August that the investigation is still open.
And the mayor’s office has completely stonewalled questions about the babies. Even the office of the chief medical examiner for the District of Columbia directs queries to the mayor’s office—specifically, to Dora Taylor-Lowe who refuses to answer The Daily Signal’s requests for comment.
It remains unclear whether autopsies have been performed on the bodies of the five babies, whose bodies were photographed by Bukovinac. (Warning: These images are graphic and disturbing.) Some pro-lifers fear that the city may have gotten rid of them.
Bowser’s reticence in addressing the matter comes despite a number of requests for clarity and requests for autopsy reports from Republican lawmakers concerned about whether the babies were illegally aborted.
In March, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., told The Daily Signal that the lack of action is not just “heartbreaking,” it’s “unacceptable.”
“Almost a year ago, five dead babies were discovered and linked to a Washington, D.C., abortion facility run by a late-term abortionist,” Lankford said in March. “Evidence suggests that the babies could have undergone illegal partial-birth abortions or infanticide. Still, nothing has been done to seek justice for these children.”
Yet although Bowser refuses to address the possibility that Santangelo was criminally aborting late-term babies in the nation’s capital, she did accuse Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising activist Handy of “tampering with fetal remains” in an April 2022 letter to Republican lawmakers highlighting that Handy herself faced FACE Act charges for blocking the entrance to a D.C. abortion clinic in October 2020.
Handy’s involvement in the discovery of the babies, as well as her participation in the October 2020 “blockade,” according to Bowser, are potentially “serious violations of federal law.”
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