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Priest charged for displaying ‘Unborn Lives Matter’ sticker on car parked in censorship zone

A priest has been charged for breaching buffer zone rules by praying silently and holding a sign with the words “praying for freedom of speech” near a closed abortion clinic in Birmingham. He also faces a further charge for an “Unborn Lives Matter” sticker on his car that was parked nearby. 

The area surrounding the abortion facility, located on Station Road, is covered by a local Public Services Protection Order (PSPO), which came into effect in September 2022. The PSPO prohibits prayer, offers of help, counselling and other activities that could constitute “protest”.  

When police initially approached Fr Sean Gough, they told him that they did not think he was breaking rules. However, he was later invited to the police station, interrogated and criminally charged with “intimidating service-users” of the abortion facility.     

Fr Gough said “I pray wherever I go, inside my head, for the people around me. How can it be a crime for a priest to pray? I often pray in my head near the abortion facility, but at the time in question, I was praying for free speech, which is under severe pressure in our country today. At all times, I believed my actions to be lawful – freedom of expression, especially when peaceful, is protected in domestic and international law. It is deeply undemocratic to censor public streets, particularly those spaces where we know that many women have benefitted from peaceful offers of help about services available”.

The Crown Prosecution Service eventually dropped the charges against Fr Gough but has made it clear that they could be reinstated.  

An alarming trend of peaceful activities being criminalised

Fr Gough’s case is not an isolated one. Earlier this year, an Army veteran was fined for ‘silently praying’ outside a BPAS abortion clinic in Bournemouth. Adam Smith-Connor, a 49-year-old physiotherapist and veteran was approached by police as he was standing outside the clinic. He was handed a £100 council fine for breaching the PSPO. 

Last year, Co-Director of the March For Life UK, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, was arrested and charged after she told police she “might” be silently praying whilst she was standing on a public street near an abortion clinic in Birmingham. She was searched, arrested and then interrogated. Police showed her pictures of herself near the clinic and asked her if she was praying. Vaughan-Spruce said she “might” have been praying but could not recall if she was praying at these specific moments, or whether she was thinking about something else, such as her lunch.

Blanket censorship zones across England and Wales

Parliamentarians are currently considering introducing blanket censorship zones across England and Wales rather than on the local level through PSPOs. An amendment to the Public Order Bill would prevent pro-lifers from “influencing” decisions within 150m of an abortion clinic.

Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson commented “Fr Sean Gough was arrested for a pro-life bumper sticker. He was not intimidating or harassing anyone. As has been pointed out many times, there are already laws in place to prevent harassment and intimidation. There is no need for draconian legislation that criminalises peaceful activities and innocuous bumper stickers”.

(Image credit: ADF UK)

Dear reader,

You may be surprised to learn that our 24-week abortion time limit is out of line with the majority of European Union countries, where the most common time limit for abortion on demand or on broad social grounds is 12 weeks gestation.

The latest guidance from the British Association of Perinatal Medicine enables doctors to intervene to save premature babies from 22 weeks. The latest research indicates that a significant number of babies born at 22 weeks gestation can survive outside the womb, and this number increases with proactive perinatal care.

This leaves a real contradiction in British law. In one room of a hospital, doctors could be working to save a baby born alive at 23 weeks whilst, in another room of that same hospital, a doctor could perform an abortion that would end the life of a baby at the same age.

The majority of the British population support reducing the time limit. Polling has shown that 70% of British women favour a reduction in the time limit from 24 weeks to 20 weeks or below.

Please click the button below to sign the petition to the Prime Minister, asking him to do everything in his power to reduce the abortion time limit.