Police confront pro-life activist for praying silently outside abortion clinic after dropping charges

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce | ADF International

A law enforcement official confronted a pro-life activist for silently praying outside an abortion clinic in the United Kingdom even after local police apologized to her for previous arrests near the facility. 

Video footage published by the law firm ADF UK Monday shows an encounter between British pro-life activist Isabel Vaughan-Spruce and West Midlands Police outside an abortion clinic in Birmingham. 

The abortion facility is protected by a Public Space Protection Order that prohibits people from "protesting, namely engaging in any act of approval or disapproval, with respect to issues related to abortion services, by any means" within a certain distance of an abortion clinic. 

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The area covered by the Public Space Protection Order is referred to by supporters of the law as an "exclusion zone" or a "safe access zone," while critics refer to it as a "censorship zone." While the Public Space Protection Order was implemented at the local level, the national government is considering non-statutory guidance declaring that "prayer within a Safe Access Zone should not automatically be seen as unlawful" and mandating that "police should not target those they believe to have pro-life views." 

In the latest video footage released by ADF UK, taken on an unspecified date "earlier this winter," the officer asked Vaughan-Spruce if she was "protesting," to which she responded "no." When asked if she was "here to pray for the lives of unborn children," Vaughan-Spruce replied, "As I've mentioned to one of your colleagues before, I think that's a little bit of a leading question."

"No, I'm not actually today," she continued. The officer followed up by inquiring if her actions could "be carried out elsewhere," which prompted Vaughan-Spruce to assert that she was "not doing any actions" but rather "simply thinking silently in my head."

After the officer sought clarification as to why she had "chosen this location to stand," Vaughn-Spruce noted that it was an "abortion centre," adding, "I'm praying for those who have been hurt by abortion." The law enforcement official informed her that there was a "Public Space Protection Order" in place covering the area surrounding the clinic.

Vaughan-Spruce indicated that she was aware of the law and told the officer that she had "been arrested twice" and "gone to court and been acquitted" for engaging in silent prayer at the facility. She also explained, "I've actually received an email from the police telling me I'm allowed to be in this area." 

Nonetheless, the law enforcement official told Vaughan-Spruce she was "breaching the Public Space Protection Order in place." Vaughan-Spruce disagreed with the officer, who then asked her if she would move "outside of the exclusion zone." 

"I don't see any reason why I would need to do that for the reasons I just explained to you," she said. When the officer asked why she was "not willing to move outside the exclusion zone," Vaughan-Spruce reiterated that she had "been to court over this."

The video concluded with the officer issuing Vaughan-Spruce a "fixed penalty notice" because he and his colleague believed she was there to "protest." Vaughan-Spruce pushed back: "I'm not protesting. I'm simply silently praying."

"I've been arrested twice and fully vindicated by a court verdict that upheld my freedom of thought, and yet even still, officers continue to interrogate me for the simple act of thinking prayerful thoughts on a public street," Vaughan-Spruce said in a statement.

"This isn't 1984, but 2023. No matter one's beliefs on abortion, nobody should be punished merely for the prayers they hold inside their head."

Vaughan-Spruce praised the draft guidance released by the Home Office, stating the idea that "nobody should be criminalized based on their thoughts alone" is "obvious common-sense protection for basic rights that must be upheld." 

"Isabel is one of several individuals who have faced arrest, fines, and/or interrogations as to their thoughts inside a 'buffer zone' which spans across several public streets," stated ADF UK Legal Counsel Jeremiah Igunnubole. "The UK must abide by its human rights obligations, under which nobody should be criminalised for their thoughts. It's vital that we maintain this most basic standard of a liberal democracy. Once we allow for thought to be policed on one issue area, the precedent has been set for these abuses to proliferate."

ADF UK created a series of templated answers for members of the British public to include in comments to the government about the proposed guidance. Those hoping to leave feedback have until the end of the day on Monday to do so. 

In September, the West Midlands Police dropped charges against Vaughan-Spruce and apologized for arresting her twice for praying.

Last February, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the initial charges against Vaughn-Spruce but warned at the time that the charges "may well start again" if they receive new evidence related to the case. The activists pursued a clear verdict in court before the police dropped the matter entirely. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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