Four abortion rights activists known as “the Florida 4” have been indicted by a federal grand jury for civil rights conspiracy and violating the FACE Act. Three of the activists face up to 12 years in prison, with the fourth facing up to 10 years, for allegedly spray painting anti-abortion centers following the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year. Heartbeat of Miami, one of the anti-abortion centers, also referred to as a “crisis pregnancy center,” that was vandalized is also alleging that the four activists—Caleb Freestone, Annarella Rivera, Gabriella Oropesa, and Amber Smith-Stewart—were engaged in a conspiracy.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody filed charges against Freestone and Smith-Stewart March 29, the same day Heartbeat of Miami filed its conspiracy case against “Jane’s Revenge.” The Heartbeat of Miami suit includes civil charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act grouping the abortion rights activists with Jane’s Revenge, a pro-abortion group that posted blog entries after the Dobbs decision in June of last year. But, representatives for the activists from the South Florida Anti-Repression Committee (SFARC) say they have no affiliation with the organization.
“It’s just dogpiling all of these charges onto them to make an example out of them,” said Martinez, a member of SFARC who is only using their last name out of concerns for safety. “To make an example for anyone else who dares try to speak up against injustices and try to enact their freedom of speech here.”
In January, the Justice Department charged Freestone and Smith-Stewart under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, a 1994 federal law typically used to sue anti-abortion protesters for blocking access to abortion clinics. The defendants allegedly spray painted the tag “Jane’s Revenge” and other pro-abortion messages on the outside of three Florida crisis centers: South Broward Pregnancy Help Center in Hollywood, LifeChoice crisis pregnancy center in Winter Haven, and Heartbeat of Miami in Hialeah. In March, two more women, Rivera and Oropesa, were also charged in FACE Act-related charges for similar acts of graffiti. The criminal and civil cases will be held in the conservative Middle District of Florida federal court.
“The FACE Act was created to protect clinics that provide abortion care from people who try to stop others from entering or are trying to hurt people trying to seek health care or the health care practitioners themselves, such as doctors, nurses,” Martinez said. “They are now using it to indict them for speaking out against these crisis pregnancy centers that provide no type of substantial health care at all.”
The SFARC was created as a result of the harassment defendants faced from the FBI and the indictments.
“We want to continue to advocate for other political prisoners and victims of repression in Florida after we win this,” August Spies, a member of SFARC, said.
Spies said the defendants are not currently detained but have been separated from their support systems. One defendant is under a curfew and was ordered to set up a landline phone at home so the FBI could check in.
“The FBI has implemented the RICO no contact list for each of the defendants—which includes a lot of the people, a lot of the activists down here in South Florida—to make it extremely difficult to communicate with anyone that they’ve known, basically outside of their immediate family,” Martinez said. “It has become quite difficult and lonely. This is a very obvious way that they’re trying to break us down, break down our modes of communication.”
Martinez said the activists are struggling mentally.
“[Their] freedom is not exactly guaranteed. They have the looming threat of what might happen to them, that they’re facing so many years in federal prison over activism that hurt nobody,” Martinez said. “They’ve been very stressed out there. Some people have lost their jobs, they lost their homes, they’ve been forced to move. They’ve been displaced, separated from their children … Their whole lives have just been turned upside down. It’s been hard for any of them to find a job.”
According to Martinez and Spies, the FBI raided and arrested the activists beginning in January. Rivera, who is a mother of two children, lost her home and job as a result of the charges. Rivera was forced to relocate from Hialeah in South Florida to the Middle District of Florida, where the case will be heard.
“We’re seeing fascism being implemented in real time,” Martinez said. “People feel empowered to commit more harm against activists and anyone who tries to speak up against injustices.”
Spies and Martinez encourage activists in Florida to not be afraid to speak out against injustice.
“We’re stronger together,” Martinez said. “We’re stronger in numbers, and that’s what they don’t want us to know, to realize …We can’t rely on the system to work in our favor because it’s not meant to work in our favor. Don’t be afraid to speak up because you’d be surprised to find out how many people also feel the same way as you do.”