The day before MPs vote on whether to introduce nationwide censorship zones, a woman has been arrested for praying silently outside a closed abortion clinic just three weeks after she was acquitted on similar charges.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, a pro-life volunteer, was arrested in December for allegedly breaching a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), which bans protests outside abortion clinics within a designated area.
Vaughan-Spruce, alongside a priest, Fr Sean Gough, who was separately charged for holding a sign reading “Praying for freedom of speech” outside an abortion clinic within a PSPO, were both acquitted on the grounds that there was not enough evidence and that their prosecution would not be in the public interest.
However, yesterday, Vaughan-Spruce was arrested again by West Midlands Police for the same alleged violation of the PSPO. In a video posted online by the legal group ADF UK, a police officer asks Vaughan-Spruce, who is standing still with her hands in her pockets, if she will move outside the PSPO.
In response, Vaughan-Spruce says “But I’m not protesting. I’m not engaging in any of the activities that are prohibited…”
To which the officer replies “But you’ve said you’re engaging in prayer, which is the offence.”
She then tells the officer that it is silent prayer, which he says is “still an offence.”
Silent prayer is an “offence”
In a separate video of the same event released by ADF UK, the officer tells Vaughan-Spruce that the PSPO says that she should not be here. Vaughan-Spruce however says “No, it says not to protest. I’m not protesting.”
“But people know who you are”, the officer replies, “and they know why you are here… and it’s their perception of events, isn’t it?”
Vaughan-Spruce again says she is silently praying to which the officer again replies “OK, and it’s their perception of events which is that you’re protesting.”
Vaughan-Spruce was subsequently arrested.
MPs to decide if they want to introduce thought crime
ADF UK said “Police wrongly claimed that the PSPO ‘buffer zone’ banned Isabel from simply standing near a clinic.”
“This is simply not true. A court ruled only weeks ago that Isabel broke no laws by thinking a prayer in her mind.”
Vaughan-Spruce’s arrest comes as MPs are voting on a law to introduce censorship zones that will likely criminalise certain thoughts outside of abortion clinics across England and Wales. The proposed law has been heavily criticised for being unclear about whether it criminalises silent prayer and consensual discussion or not. Andrew Lewer MP has proposed an amendment to the law that ensures that consensual discussion and silent prayer are not criminal.
Writing in the Daily Express, Mr Lewer said “We do not need ‘thoughtcrime’ introduced in the United Kingdom.”
After the arrest of Vaughan-Spruce just weeks after her acquittal, ADF UK asked “How can MPs roll out this law with so little clarity?”
Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said “Not only is Isabel’s arrest an outrage, the PSPO, which may or may not ban silent prayer, is an extremely poorly written law. Just three weeks ago, Isabel and Fr Sean Gough were acquitted for the same charge that Isabel is facing once again.”
“There is so little clarity at the local level. It makes no sense for MPs to introduce the same confusion at the national level.”