Pro-life volunteer arrested again for silent prayer near abortion clinic

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce being spoken to by a police officer outside an abortion clinic in Birmingham.(Photo: ADF UK)

A pro-life volunteer has been arrested for a second time after praying silently near an abortion clinic.

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was told by one of the six attending police officers that it was an "offence" to engage in silent prayer within the buffer zone around the Birmingham clinic. 

The clinic is subject to a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) banning pro-life activity within 150m of the premises.

"You've said you're engaging in prayer, which is the offence," the officer said. 

When Vaughan-Spruce tells him that it is "silent prayer", he responds, "No, but you were still engaging in prayer. It is an offence." 

The arrest comes just weeks after Vaughan-Spruce was found "not guilty" of intimidating abortion clinic users after a previous arrest for praying silently inside a buffer zone last year. 

She and Catholic priest Fr Sean Gough were cleared of the charges by Birmingham Magistrates' Court. 

Commenting on her latest arrest, she said, "Only three weeks ago, it was made clear by the court that my silent prayers were not a crime.

"And yet, again, I have been arrested and treated as a criminal for having the exact same thoughts in my head, in the same location.

"The ambiguity of laws that limit free expression and thought – even in peaceful, consensual conversation or in silent, internal prayer – leads to abject confusion, to the detriment of important fundamental rights.

"Nobody should be criminalised for their thoughts."

Vaughan-Spruce is being supported by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF UK). 

Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, who defended her in last month's trial, said, "The cack-handed attempts to repeatedly criminalise Isabel's prayers, and the clear confusion on the behalf of police officers about the status of freedom of thought under the law, makes clear that censorial 'buffer zones' are not fit for purpose in a democratic society.

"We all stand firmly against harassment on public streets. Harassment is already illegal. A government review in 2018 found that harassment near abortion facilities is rare, and peaceful prayer and offers of charitable help were the most common activities there.

"The government concluded at that point that censorship zones would be disproportionate. No further reviews have since been conducted. What has now changed?"

Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for pro-life group, Right To Life UK, said, "Not only is Isabel's arrest an outrage, the PSPO, which may or may not ban silent prayer, is an extremely poorly written law.

"Just three weeks ago, Isabel and Fr Sean Gough were acquitted for the same charge that Isabel is facing once again."

"There is so little clarity at the local level. It makes no sense for MPs to introduce the same confusion at the national level."