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Judge taunts 75-year-old woman with: ‘Make an effort to remain alive’

By Elizabeth Troutman

(Photo by Saad Chaudhry on Unsplash)When 75-year-old Paulette Harlow was sentenced to 24 months in prison on Friday for attempting to dissuade women from getting abortions, she felt thankful—despite her chronic health conditions.

“I went to the sentencing, and I felt very confident, and I felt very joyful, and I felt like it was a tremendous privilege to stand in the court on behalf of the unborn, who have no voice,” she told The Daily Signal. 

The jury found Harlow guilty in November under the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and of a civil rights conspiracy. 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.”

Harlow’s lawyer has filed an appeal of the verdict.

The FACE Act prohibits the use of force, obstruction, or property damage intended to interfere with “reproductive health care services.” Though it theoretically protects houses of worship and pregnancy resource centers, as well as abortion clinics, the Biden administration’s Justice Department has largely used FACE to prosecute pro-life activists like Harlow.

Harlow said she sat and prayed in October 2020 at the Washington Surgi-Clinic, which Dr. Cesare Santangelo ran at the time. Pro-life advocacy group Live Action once recorded Santangelo saying he “would not help” a baby in the rare event the baby was born alive during a late-term abortion procedure.

“We prayed, we sang music, and we called out to some of the women and told them not to be afraid, that we could help them, that they could still change their mind, and that we love them,” said Harlow, a resident of Kingston, Massachusetts, about 35 miles southeast of Boston.

The same federal judge who sentenced the other eight pro-lifers who protested at the clinic to a combined 23 years also sentenced Harlow, who will turn 76 on June 23. Harlow’s co-defendants received similar sentences, ranging from 10 months to five years.

At the end of the trial, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia reportedly said to Harlow that she should “make an effort to remain alive” as that is a “tenet of faith,” Live Action reported.

“Taunting an elderly woman about potentially dying alone in prison is disgraceful,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told The Daily Signal. “Clinton Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly disgraced the justice system with this remark and with this decision.” Kollar-Kotelly, now 81, was appointed to the federal district court by then-President Bill Clinton in 1997.

Harlow said she and her friends have been praying for the judge since the beginning of the trial.

The Department of Justice released a statement saying Harlow and the other eight pro-lifers “engaged in a conspiracy to create a blockade at the reproductive health care clinic to prevent the clinic from providing, and patients from receiving, reproductive health services.”

The pro-lifers “forcefully entered the clinic and set about blockading two clinic doors using their bodies, furniture, chains, and ropes,” the statement claims. An hour-and-a-half-long video of the “rescue mission” showed no signs of violence, however.

The DOJ did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment.

Operation Rescue Boston, which Harlow is part of, is a pro-life organization that “relies on the Grace of God and employ[s] nonviolent, First Amendment-protected means of expression,” according to its website.

Harlow, who suffers from diabetes; Hashimoto’s disease, an inflammatory thyroid condition; and severe back pains, said that while she is not afraid to go to prison, she has serious concerns about her health. She doubts there is a prison facility that could accommodate her conditions.

The mother of six and grandmother of eight is currently under house arrest while she awaits the decision on the prison where she’ll spend the next two years.

“I’m not sure that they would be able to take care of all the things my husband takes care of full time,” she said. “I’m in pain all the time, and I can’t really take a lot of pain medication because of my liver, and so, I have to be very careful with what medications. And there’s a lot of times I’m not able to sleep, and I have to sleep during the day, and I don’t know how that would work with the noise of the prison.”

But Harlow is not scared about what will happen to her. She takes comfort in the charge of Pope John Paul II, who instructed: “Be not afraid.”

“I know that wherever I go, God’s going with me, and he’s going before me, and he’ll be with me, and he’ll protect me, and he’ll fill me with joy, like he did in the courtroom,” she said. “I just felt very joy-filled.”

When asked if she would like prayer for her upcoming sentence, Harlow instead requested that people pray for unborn babies and mothers in vulnerable situations.

“I’ll be OK,” she said. “I’m with God. I have a wonderful husband, wonderful friends and family, and supporters all over the place. Pray for those mothers that do not have that kind of support and go up to the abortion clinics.”

Though Harlow is a devout Catholic, she says stopping abortion is not a matter of religion.

“It’s what God tells us to do, but it’s just a matter of humanity,” she said. “Why would any country be killing off their own?”

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