(Daily Citizen) Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was searched, arrested by three officers and taken to a police station in Birmingham, England in December 2022. A video of the event went viral and was reported in news outlets around the world.
Vaughan-Spruce is the leader of the pro-life group 40 Days for Life Birmingham, an international organization dedicated to ending abortion. She was standing and silently praying outside an abortion clinic – while the clinic was closed.
A police officer came and questioned her, and she was charged with violating the city’s Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) and the nationwide Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act of 2014.
The first regulation creates a buffer zone that Christian Concern, a legal aid group, says “censors free speech and makes it illegal to peacefully pray outside of an abortion clinic in the city.”
The second law was designed to tackle “irresponsible dog ownership and the use of illegal firearms by gangs and organised criminal groups” and to strengthen “the protection afforded to the victims of forced marriage and those at risk of sexual harm.”
That’s a far cry from praying outside an abortion clinic.
This last week, the charges against her were dismissed – but they could be reinstated at any time by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Alliance Defending Freedom explained. The group said:
CPS have now communicated that they have discontinued the charges against Vaughan-Spruce, yet also have made clear that the charges “may well start again” in the near future subject to further evidential review. This is a warning prosecutors can issue when they expect that further evidence will be received.
Vaughan-Spruce has the right to pursue a court verdict in the case, which she has chosen to do. She said:
It can’t be right that I was arrested and made a criminal, only for praying in my head on a public street. So-called “buffer zone legislation” will result in so many more people like me, doing good and legal activities like offering charitable support to women in crisis pregnancies, or simply praying in their heads, being treated like criminals and even facing court.
It’s important to me that I can continue my vital work in supporting women who’d like to avoid abortion if they only had some help. In order to do so, it’s vital that I have clarity as to my legal status. Many of us need an answer as to whether it’s still lawful to pray silently in our own heads. That’s why I’ll be pursuing a verdict regarding my charges in court.
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Vaughn-Spruce began her own legal action against Birmingham, challenging its PSPO in November 2022, the month before her arrest. Before the order was implemented, she and others from 40 Days for Life Birmingham had been praying outside the clinic regularly for two years and offering help to abortion-minded women.
Christian Concern explained how the order stifled speech and prayer:
The buffer zone, however, has now essentially criminalised the group’s ministry by prohibiting any discussion of abortion within the area. This includes prayer, counselling and providing information and support available to women in crisis pregnancies. Using the word “baby” or “mum” is also now an offence.
Disturbingly, the PSPO also now gives power to “designated” members of the public to essentially spy on the zone and facilitate the removal of anyone perceived to be breaking the PSPO order.
Christian Concern says that “the council did not have the power to make the PSPO because officials wrongly sought to prohibit peaceful and lawful behaviour” which it called “anti-social.”
The group will also argue that the order violates “Vaughan-Spruce’s human rights under Article 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).” Those articles declare the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom of expression; and freedom of assembly and association.
Cities across the UK have implemented PSPOs to stifle the rights of pro-life people, and the British Parliament has considered legislation creating buffer zones around abortion clinics throughout the country.
Editor's note: This article was published in Focus on the Family's Daily Citizen and is reprinted with permission.