Silent prayer outside an abortion clinic is prohibited in certain areas of the United Kingdom — and pro-life activists who choose to pray in those areas have been repeatedly targeted by police.
Footage released by Alliance Defending Freedom’s UK branch shows an officer, allegedly with the West Midlands Police, grilling pro-life activist Isabel Vaughan-Spruce about why she is praying near an abortion clinic.
“Are you here as part of an organized protest?” the female police officer asks Vaughan-Spruce. All of the officer’s questions appear to come from a piece of paper she holds.
“No,” the pro-life activist responds.
“Are you part of a pro-life or pro-choice organization?”
“I am, but I’m not here in that capacity.”
“Are you protesting?” the police officer persists.
“Are you here to pray for the lives of unborn children?”
“That’s a little bit leading, but no I’m not,” Vaughn-Spruce says.
“Can your actions be done elsewhere?”
“I can pray elsewhere but I want to pray here today.”
“Why have you chosen the location, here, to stand?”
“You know this an abortion center that I’m standing outside.”
The officer then asks her a series of questions, including: “Are you aware that there is a Public Space Protection Order in place here? Are you aware that you are breaching a Public Protection Order? Will you move from here to outside the exclusion zone?”
“I don’t believe I need to,” Vaughan-Spruce says, adding when pressed, “I believe I’ve got a right to be here.”
Alliance Defending Freedom UK further clarified that though Vaughan-Spruce was in the zone, she was not protesting. However, the officer still told her that she would be given a “fixed penalty” for “failing to comply with the Public Space Protection Order and the Anti-Social Behavior Crime and Policing Act of 2014.”
ADF UK says this fine was later reduced to a warning.
This is not the first time that Vaughan-Spruce has been targeted for praying silently near an abortion clinic. The Daily Signal reported in December 2022 that she was arrested and charged with breaking a Public Space Protection Order for praying silently near an abortion clinic on four occasions in Kings Norton, Birmingham.
Video of the incident shows that police then search her, arrest her, take her to a police station where they interrogate her, and charge her with breaking the Public Space Protection Order by silently praying.
The Daily Signal also reported in February that authorities charged a Catholic priest with violating one of these censorship zones when he silently prayed outside an abortion clinic while holding a sign that said “praying for free speech.”
Father Sean Gough, a pro-life priest stationed in Wolverhampton, England, had also parked his car near the abortion clinic, which is covered by a Public Spaces Protection Order, according to Alliance Defending Freedom International. Authorities took issue with Gough’s car, which has an “unborn lives matter” bumper sticker on it, ADF said.
Gough was charged with “intimidating” abortion clinic “service-users,” the organization said, noting that when police initially approached Gough, they reportedly told the priest that they did not think he was breaking any rules. Only after the police asked Gough to come to the police station and after they interrogated him about the situation did they criminally charge him, according to ADF International.
“I pray wherever I go, inside my head, for the people around me. How can it be a crime for a priest to pray? I often pray in my head near the abortion facility, but when confronted by the authorities, I was praying for free speech, which is under severe pressure in our country today,” Gough said in a statement at the time.
“At all times, I believed my actions to be lawful – freedom of expression, especially when peaceful, is protected in domestic and international law,” he continued. “It is deeply undemocratic to censor public streets, particularly those spaces where we know that many women have benefitted from peaceful offers of help about services available.”
English authorities also sought to punish a British army veteran for praying silently in front of an abortion facility in Bournemouth in November 2022, for which authorities issued Adam Smith-Connor a 100-pound fine (about $123.65). Smith-Connor said he was praying for his son, who died in an abortion.
“I’m sorry for your loss, but ultimately, I have to go along with the guidelines of the Public Space Protection Order to say that we are in the belief, therefore, that you are in breach of the PSPO, which says about prayer and also acts of disapproval…,” the officer said.
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