A British pro-life activist is facing criminal charges for silently praying outside an abortion clinic in Birmingham.
Isabel Vaughn-Spruce, the director of March for Life UK, was arrested outside the BPAS Robert Clinic in Kings Norton, Birmingham, on Dec. 6. Last Thursday, she was charged with four counts of violating a Public Space Protection Order.
According to ADF International, a legal nonprofit handling her case, authorities were tipped off by an onlooker who said Vaughn-Spruce was outside the clinic on three occasions while it was closed. Vaughn-Spruce wasn't carrying any signs or placards.
At the police station, law enforcement officials presented Vaughn-Spruce with pictures of herself outside the abortion clinic and inquired whether she was praying. She responded by asserting that while she "might" have been praying in some of the pictures, she also could have been thinking about other topics, such as her lunch.
Under the initial terms of her release, the pro-life advocate was told she couldn't contact a local Catholic priest involved in pro-life ministry. However, that particular condition was later dropped. A requirement imposed on Vaughn-Spruce restricting her from engaging in pro-life activism and prayer in an area that extends beyond the so-called "buffer zone" surrounding the abortion clinic remains in place.
"It's abhorrently wrong that I was searched, arrested, interrogated by police, and charged simply for praying in the privacy of my own mind," Vaughn-Spruce said in a statement.
"Censorship zones purport to ban harassment, which is already illegal. Nobody should ever be subject to harassment. 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."
The activist contends that "nobody should be criminalized for thinking and for praying in a public space in the U.K."
The Public Space Protection Order prohibits "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," including "graphic, verbal or written means, prayer or counseling" outside the abortion clinic.
The order, authorized on Sept. 7, applies to an area extending from one block west of the abortion clinic to two blocks east of the facility as well as one block to its south. It states that violators could be subject to a fine.
"Isabel's experience should be deeply concerning to all those who believe that our hard-fought fundamental rights are worth protecting," said ADF UK Legal Counsel Jeremiah Igunnubole. "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 added that a "mature democracy should be able to differentiate between criminal conduct and the peaceful exercise of constitutionally protected rights."
"Isabel, a woman of good character, and who has tirelessly served her community by providing charitable assistance to vulnerable women and children, has been treated no better than a violent criminal," the counselor stated. "The recent increase in buffer zone legislation and orders is a watershed moment in our country."
"We must ask ourselves whether we are a genuinely democratic country committed to protecting the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of speech," he added. "We are at serious risk of mindlessly sleepwalking into a society that accepts, normalizes, and even promotes the 'tyranny of the majority.'"
Vaughn-Spruce also runs the pro-life campaign "40 Days for Life Birmingham," which filed a legal challenge to the Public Safety Protection Order last month before Vaughn-Spruce was arrested.
Activists with 40 Days for Life Birmingham engage in peaceful prayer outside abortion clinics in Birmingham and provide leaflets to women seeking abortions.
In a year-end blog, March for Life UK identified the imposition of buffer zones around abortion clinics at the local level and "the threat of national buffer zones looming" as examples of "sad moments for the pro-life movement" that unfolded in 2022.
Vaughn-Spruce lamented that "this PSPO in Birmingham prevents us from being there for women at the hour when they need us the most."
A petition launched on CitizenGo calls for UK Home Secretary Suella Braveman to dismiss all charges against Vaughn-Spruce. The petition has accumulated more than 22,000 signatures out of a 50,000-signature goal as of Wednesday afternoon.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org