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West Midlands police told Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who was arrested in December 2022 after praying outside an abortion facility in Birmingham, England in an area where protesting against abortion has been banned, that the charges against her have been dropped.
“This isn’t 1984, but 2023 — I should never have been arrested or investigated simply for the thoughts I held in my own mind. Silent prayer is never criminal. I welcome West Midland Police’s decision to end their investigation and their apology for the time it took to do so, but it’s important to highlight the extremely harmful implications of this ordeal not just for myself, but for everyone concerned with fundamental freedoms in the UK. What happened to me signals to others that they too could face arrest, interrogation, investigation, and potential prosecution if caught exercising their basic freedom of thought,” Vaughan-Spruce said in a statement.
“Now that authorities have twice settled on the conclusion that silent prayer is not a crime – a conclusion also reached by the Home Secretary last week – I am thankful to resume my practice of praying silently for women in crisis pregnancies,” she added.
In an email, police told Vaughan-Spruce that the “limitation of proceedings” were over and that they apologized “for the time this case has taken to come to this position,” according to The Daily Mail.
“There is now an urgent need for legal changes to stem the tide of policing by politics. We hope the decision from West Midlands Police that they will not prosecute free thought, alongside the Home Secretary’s public commitment to protecting silent prayer, will be reflected in legislation, guidance, and practice,” said Alliance Defending Freedom U.K. Attorney Jeremiah Igunnubole, who helped defend Vaughan-Spruce.
The ordeal started after authorities approached Vaughan-Spruce outside the BPAS Robert Clinic in Kings Norton, Birmingham on December 6, 2022 after they received a complaint from someone about her presence, according to footage published by ADF U.K.
“Are you standing here as part of a protest?” asked an officer.
“No, I’m not protesting,” Vaughan-Spruce said.
“Are you praying?” the police officer asked her.
“I might be praying in my head,” she replied.
On December 15, she was charged with four counts of failing to comply with a Public Space Protection Order in so-called censorship zones, which authorities introduced to criminalize individuals appearing to be “engaging in any act of approval or disapproval or attempted act of approval or disapproval.”
Legislation is currently being debated in the U.K. that would extend a buffer zone 150 meters around abortion facilities. An amendment to exempt silent prayer and mutual conversations was defeated 299-116.