United Kingdom authorities arrested a pro-life woman praying outside an abortion clinic for allegedly breaking a temporary Public Space Protection Order on four separate occasions earlier this month.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, a 45-year-old charity volunteer, was arrested and charged on four counts after she told police she “might” be silently praying near the U.K.’s leading provider of NHS-funded abortion services BPAS Robert Clinic in Kings Norton, Birmingham, according to local media.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) published footage earlier this week showing authorities approaching Vaughan-Spruce outside the clinic. During the interaction, authorities questioned why Vaughn Spruce was standing outside the abortion facility “of all places.”
“Are you standing here as part of a protest?” asked the 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.
ADF said authorities confronted the woman after receiving complaints from an observer who suspected that Vaughan-Spruce was praying silently in her mind.
Following her arrest, Vaughan-Spruce told ADF that it was “abhorrently wrong” that authorities searched, arrested, interrogated, and charged her “simply for praying in the privacy of my own mind.”
“Nobody should ever be subject to harassment,” she said. “But what I did was the furthest thing from harmful. I was exercising my freedom of thought, my freedom of religion, inside the privacy of my own mind.”
“Nobody should be criminalized for thinking and for praying in a public space in the U.K.,” Vaughan-Spruce added.
Police arrested Vaughan-Spruce on December 6 and subsequently charged her on December 15 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.”
Such acts include “verbal or written means, prayer or counseling” in relation to abortion, according to ADF U.K.
Birmingham City Council officials enforced the order earlier this year, which local media reported bans explicitly protesting abortion outside clinics after members of the “40 Days For Life” anti-abortion group began repeatedly posting up outside the center.
Police said such protests reportedly led to verbal and physical confrontations.
Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF U.K. supporting Vaughan-Spruce, said, “Isabel’s experience should be deeply concerning to all those who believe that our hard-fought fundamental rights are worth protecting.”
“It is truly astonishing that the law has granted local authorities such wide and unaccountable discretion, that now even thoughts deemed ‘wrong’ can lead to a humiliating arrest and a criminal charge,” Igunnubole said.
The Daily Signal reported that Scottish communications officer for ADF U.K. Lois McLatchie said in a statement that “no citizen should be criminalized for legitimate, peaceful activity, even prayer.”
“Isabel’s case demonstrates just how far the state can go if we do not vigilantly guard fundamental rights and freedoms,” McLatchie said.
Vaughn-Spruce posted bail and will appear at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on February 2.
The arrest follows two other incidents within the last two years where local police told a praying woman in Southern England to leave despite standing outside the local censorship zone, and a grandmother from Liverpool was arrested and fined for praying silently near an abortion facility on a walk during COVID lockdown.