Prosecutors drop charges against woman arrested for praying outside abortion clinic
The Crown Prosecution Servicein the United Kingdom has dropped charges against a pro-life activist arrested for praying silently outside an abortion clinic but has left the door open to additional prosecution for the same offense in the future.
The nonprofit legal organization ADF UK announced in a statement Friday that prosecutors have informed pro-life activist Isabel Vaughn-Spruce that they have dismissed charges against her for peacefully praying outside of an abortion clinic in Birmingham, England. However, they also told her that charges "may well start again" if they receive new evidence related to the case. She intends to pursue a clear verdict in court.
Vaughn-Spruce's arrest followed the city of Birmingham's implementation of a Public Space Protection Order prohibiting people from "protesting, namely engaging in any act of approval or disapproval or attempted act of approval or disapproval, with respect to issues related to abortion services, by any means" in the area surrounding the BPAS Robert Clinic in Kings Norton, Birmingham. The order identified prayer as one of the activities banned by the order.
In a statement, Vaughn-Spruce indicated her intention to seek a clear verdict in court that will set a precedent for pro-life activists going forward.
"It can't be right that I was arrested and made a criminal, only for praying in my head on a public street," she said.
"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," Vaughn-Spruce added. "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."
The activist said it's essential to 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," she said. "That's why I'll be pursuing a verdict regarding my charges in court."
ADF UK legal counsel Jeremiah Igunnubole said in a statement that his client was arrested "simply for [her] thoughts," saying "no one should fear prosecution for silent prayer and thoughts in the privacy of their mind."
"It's quite another [thing] to initially deem those thoughts to be sufficient evidence to justify charges, then discontinue those charges due to 'insufficient evidence,' and then to warn that further evidence relating to the already unclear charges may soon be forthcoming so as to restart the entire grueling process from the beginning," Igunnabole said.
"This is a clear instance of the process becoming the punishment creating a chilling effect on free expression and freedom of thought, conscience and belief."
Vaughn-Spruce, who serves as the director of March for Life UK, was arrested outside the abortion clinic on Dec. 6.
Video footage of the arrest shows a police officer asking her why she was standing outside the facility, inquiring "are you praying?" She replied, "I might be praying in my head, not out loud."
The officer proceeded to ask Vaughn-Spruce if she would voluntarily accompany him to the police station so he could ask her some questions about her presence outside the abortion clinic.
When she declined, he placed her under arrest for failing to comply with the Public Space Protection Order. While the police did not put her in handcuffs, they did engage in a lengthy search of the pro-life activist.
An account of Vaughn-Spruce's questioning at the police station revealed that law enforcement presented her with pictures of herself outside the clinic, asking if she was praying, causing her to reiterate her earlier response that she "might" have been praying. At the same time, she suggested that she also may have been thinking about her lunch.
Shortly after Vaughn-Spruce's arrest, CitizenGo launched a petition to U.K. Home Secretary Suella Braverman, urging her to drop all charges against the pro-life activist. It has accumulated nearly 56,000 signatures as of Friday morning.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org