Woman Arrested for Silent Prayer Outside U.K. Abortion Clinic Receives Apology and Vindication
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Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, the woman who faced arrest on two occasions for engaging in silent prayer outside U.K. abortion clinics, has received an official police apology and assurance that she will not be charged for violating a local "buffer zone" protection order. While she has vowed to return to the clinic to continue her prayers, Vaughan-Spruce expressed concerns about the implications of her treatment for fundamental freedoms in the United Kingdom.
Photo credit: Patrick Fore
In a statement made on September 22, 2023, Vaughan-Spruce asserted, "This isn't 1984, but 2023 -- I should never have been arrested or investigated simply for the thoughts I held in my own mind." She drew parallels to George Orwell's dystopian novel, emphasizing that "silent prayer is never criminal."
The controversy began on March 6 when Vaughan-Spruce was arrested for silently praying within a designated "buffer zone" outside an abortion clinic located on Station Road in Birmingham. Local authorities had implemented a Public Space Protection Order in the vicinity of the clinic, utilizing a legal mechanism designed to curtail antisocial behavior.
Activities prohibited within this zone include expressing approval or disapproval of abortion through various means, such as protests, prayers, or counseling. The order also prohibits interference, intimidation, harassment, recording or photographing clinic staff or clients, and the display of any text or imagery related to abortion.
Notably, Vaughan-Spruce had previously faced arrest on December 6, 2022, for silent prayer outside the same abortion facility, albeit during a time when the clinic was closed. However, in February, the Birmingham Magistrates' Court acquitted her of all charges related to the first case.
In response to her second case, the West Midlands police issued an apology to Vaughan-Spruce for the delay in closing the investigation. They confirmed that there would be no further investigation or action taken against her.
While Vaughan-Spruce welcomed the conclusion of the investigation and the police's apology, she underscored the broader implications of her experience, stating that it highlights "the extremely harmful implications" for others. She expressed concern that her case could discourage individuals from exercising their fundamental freedom of thought, fearing potential arrest, interrogation, investigation, and even prosecution.
Initially, the police attributed the delay in her case to it being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for potential charges. However, ADF UK reported that CPS denied receiving any such referral and had no information about her second case. CPS also asserted that the police have the authority to decide on charges themselves, without involving the CPS.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who serves as the director of March for Life UK and provides support to women facing crisis pregnancies, has been praying near abortion clinics for two decades. She expressed her gratitude for the authorities' acknowledgment that silent prayer is not a criminal act and affirmed her commitment to resuming her practice of silently praying for women in crisis pregnancies.
This case serves as a poignant reminder of the delicate balance between freedom of expression and the establishment of buffer zones around sensitive locations, sparking a broader debate on the protection of individual rights in the U.K.
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