A charity volunteer was arrested after she told police she "might" be praying silently when they asked why she was standing on a public street near an abortion facility, according to a report from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) UK.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, the Director of the UK March for Life, was standing near the BPAS Robert Clinic in Kings Norton, Birmingham in an area ADF UK called a "censorship zone," when police approached her after an onlooker complained she might be praying outside the abortion facility the report said. Birmingham's authorities established a buffer zone around abortion clinics, which makes it illegal for an individual to engage in any act or attempted act of approval or disapproval as it relates to abortion and includes "verbal or written means" like "prayer or counseling."
"It’s abhorrently wrong that I was searched, arrested, interrogated by police and charged simply for praying in the privacy of my own mind," Vaughan-Spruce said following her arrest. "I was exercising my freedom of thought, my freedom of religion, inside the privacy of my own mind. Nobody should be criminalised for thinking and for praying, in a public space in the UK."
"My faith is a central part of who I am, so sometimes I’ll stand or walk near an abortion facility and pray about this issue," she added. "This is something I’ve done pretty much every week for around the last 20 years of my life. I pray for my friends who have experienced abortion, and for the women who are thinking about going through it themselves."
Vaughan-Spruce has stood near the abortion facility while it was closed three times and said she "might" have been praying, according to ADF UK. Police showed her photos of herself standing outside the facility and asked if she was praying, which she said she could not answer since she spent some time praying, but got distracted other times.
"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," Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, which is supporting Vaughan-Spruce, said. "A mature democracy should be able to differentiate between criminal conduct and the peaceful exercise of constitutionally protected rights."
He described Vaughan-Spruce as a woman of "good character … who has tirelessly served her community" through her charity work in assistance of women and children, but said she "has been treated no better than a violent criminal."
"We are at serious risk of mindlessly sleepwalking into a society that accepts, normalises, and even promotes the ‘tyranny of the majority,’" Igunnubole added.
As part of her conditions for bail, police restricted Vaughan-Spruce from praying publicly in other areas besides the abortion facility, according to ADF.
Parliamentarians in the UK are considering legislation to introduce similar censorship zones in other parts of England and Wales that would restrict pro-life volunteers from from interfering with the ability to "access, provide, or facilitate the provision of abortion services."