Connie Youngkin, an anti-abortion activist who has made the phrase "First I go to jail, then I go to Sacramento" the unofficial slogan in her state Assembly campaign, Tuesday was sentenced to 60 days in jail for blocking a La Mesa medical clinic late last year.
El Cajon Municipal Judge Eddie Sturgeon, who suspended 120 days of the 180-day sentence that he imposed on Youngkin, allowed the Poway Republican to remain free on $5,000 bond pending the outcome of her appeal, which attorneys said could last from six months to several years.
As a result, Youngkin, who was jailed last year on a similar charge, probably will not have to confront the prospect of campaigning for the Republican nomination in the 76th Assembly District from jail--an approach that she had said earlier she intended to take, if necessary.
"I have no skeletons in my closet--they're all on the front page," Youngkin said after learning her sentence, which included a $250 fine, $200 restitution to the clinic to pay for damaged plants and three years' probation. If Youngkin were to break the law again during her probation, she could be sentenced to serve the 120-day suspended portion of her jail term.
After a four-day trial, Youngkin was convicted last month of trespassing during a demonstration last October in front of a La Mesa clinic that performs abortions. That demonstration, which drew more than 500 people, was organized by Operation Rescue, a nationwide anti-abortion group that regularly pickets abortion clinics.
In urging Sturgeon to simply place Youngkin on probation, defense attorney Stephen Hurst implored the judge to "put aside the controversy that rages around us" over the abortion issue and to treat the case as a "simple trespass"--an infraction undeserving, he argued, of a substantial jail term.
"Connie Youngkin has obeyed the law--the law of God," Hurst said. "Her commitment to Jesus Christ the Lord is more important than anything this court can do. She has believed that she was required by that law to trespass if needed to save a life."
The 41-year-old Youngkin used her own remarks to the judge to underscore her vehement opposition to abortion--the issue that she hopes will enable her to unseat Republican Assemblywoman Tricia Hunter of Bonita, an abortion rights advocate who last October won a special election that drew national attention in the staunchly conservative North San Diego County-Riverside County district.
"There's been a great deception in this country . . . from the abortion industry," Youngkin told the judge. "Women are being deceived as they go in these abortion clinics. Babies are being aborted to the sixth month (of pregnancy). Tongs are tearing arms and limbs apart. . . . This has to be stopped."
Deputy Dist. Atty. Gordon Davis, emphasizing Youngkin's previous conviction on a similar charge--for which she served about two-thirds of a 60-day sentence--recommended that the judge sentence her to 80 days in custody (with another 100 days of a six-month term suspended), a $500 fine and three years' probation.
That earlier conviction, Sturgeon said, was a major factor in his decision to sentence Youngkin to some time in custody. After the judge announced the sentence and adjourned the court, several of about a dozen Youngkin supporters in the courtroom stood and sang "God Bless America."
Steve Baldwin, Youngkin's campaign manager, argued outside the courtroom that Youngkin's jail sentence "probably won't deter that many of our supporters" and might, in fact, benefit her campaign.
"It's good for name recognition," said Baldwin, who lost a 1988 race against Assemblyman Steve Peace (D-Chula Vista). "So many politicians don't stand up for their convictions that voters might regard that as refreshing."
Like other Operation Rescue members, Youngkin to date has prided herself on a willingness to be jailed for her beliefs. However, Youngkin said Tuesday that, rather than break the law at future demonstrations, she intends to instead pursue her anti-abortion goals in politics--a move that she characterized as a shift only of tactics, not purpose.
"When I win this district, I'll be able to save a lot more babies all over the state," Youngkin said. "I'll be able to save more babies in Sacramento."