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U.K. drops charges against woman for praying silently near abortion clinic — but she will seek clear verdict in court


UPDATE: Charges against Isabel Vaughn-Spruce for “praying in her mind” near an abortion clinic have been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service, though they warned her that additional evidence could bring more charges, leading Vaughn-Spruce and her attorneys to pursue a concrete ruling by a judge.

She is one of two Christians who have been arrested for violating new censorial laws that ban people from engaging in prayer, even silent prayer, a certain distance from an abortion clinic. An Army veteran named Adam Smith-Connor was also arrested in November while he was praying for his deceased son, and he too is fighting the charges (see original story below).

Vaughn-Spruce stated,

“It can’t be right that I was arrested and made a criminal, only for praying in my head on a public street. So-called ‘buffer zone legislation’ will result in so many more people like me, doing good and legal activities like offering charitable support to women in crisis pregnancies, or simply praying in their heads, being treated like criminals and even facing court. It’s important to me that I can continue my vital work in supporting women who’d like to avoid abortion if they only had some help. In order to do so, it’s vital that I have clarity as to my legal status. Many of us need an answer as to whether it’s still lawful to pray silently in our own heads. That’s why I’ll be pursuing a verdict regarding my charges in court.”

Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom U.K., said in a statement,

“Isabel is right to request proper clarity as to the lawfulness of our actions. It’s one thing for the authorities to humiliatingly search and arrest an individual simply for their thoughts. It’s quite another to initially deem those thoughts to be sufficient evidence to justify charges, then discontinue those charges due to ‘insufficient evidence’, and then to warn that further evidence relating to the already unclear charges may soon be forthcoming so as to restart the entire grueling process from the beginning. This is a clear instance of the process becoming the punishment creating a chilling effect on free expression and freedom of thought, conscience and belief. ADF UK remain committed to supporting Isabel’s pursuit because no one should fear prosecution for silent prayer and thoughts in the privacy of their mind.”

Despite her run-in with the law, Vaughn-Spruce, a long-term committed pro-lifer, recently testified at a roundtable discussion hosted by the Scottish government to voice her concerns regarding similar “buffer zone” legislation being considered in Scotland.

Original Story

{Published January 20, 2023} Adam Smith-Connor is taking legal action against the U.K. government after he was fined for praying silently near an abortion clinic, marking the second time in a month that a British citizen has been targeted by law enforcement for committing thought crimes.

Authorities in southern England began enforcing censorial “buffer zones” around abortion facilities on October 13, 2022. In November, British Army veteran Adam Smith-Connor ran afoul of the law. He was praying close to an abortion clinic in Bournemouth, keeping his back turned to respect the privacy of those inside. He was then approached by police who asked him, “Can I ask what is the nature of your prayer today?”

He replied that he was praying for his son, who was killed in an abortion. “I’m sorry for your loss, but ultimately, I have to go along with the guidelines of the Public Space Protection Order to say that we are in the belief, therefore, that you are in breach of the PSPO, which says about prayer and also acts of disapproval,” the officer said.

Smith-Connor was fined 100 pounds (or about $123). The fine was punishment for praying in a “censorship zone” established around abortion clinics in parts of the U.K. Inside of these areas, criminal activity includes “engaging in any act of approval or disapproval or attempted act of approval or disapproval.” That includes by “verbal or written means, prayer or counselling.”

Smith-Connor, who is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom U.K., is challenging the fine.

He provided details as to why he was praying in front of the abortion clinic, explaining,

“Twenty-two years ago, I drove my ex-girlfriend to a facility and paid for her to have an abortion. It was a pivotal moment in my life. The consequences of my actions that day came back to grieve me years later, when I realized I had lost my son, Jacob, to an abortion I had paid for. Recently, I stood outside a similar facility and prayed to God for my son, Jacob, for other babies who have lost their lives to abortion, for their grieving families, and for abortion clinic staff.”

He continued,

“I would never have imagined being in a position to risk a criminal record for praying silently. In the past, I assisted with abortions in [the] hospital as part of my army medical training, but now I pray for those who perform abortions because I [realize] how harmful abortion is to women and families, and that every single human life is valuable—no matter how small. Most of all, I’m moved to pray because of what happened to my son, Jacob.”

ADF U.K. is also representing Isabel Vaughn-Spruce in another case involving illegal prayer near an abortion clinic.

In Kings Norton, Birmingham, Vaughn-Spruce, a charity volunteer, was praying silently near an abortion facility. She was approached by police officers after they received a complaint that she might be praying silently in her mind.

Police searched Vaughn-Spruce and arrested her. She was then taken to the police station where police showed her pictures of herself near the abortion clinic and asked her if she was praying when the pictures were taken. She responded that she wasn’t sure if she was praying or whether she was thinking about something else. She has since been charged with “protesting and engaging in an act that is intimidating to service users.”

Vaugh-Spruce said,

“I have devoted much of my life to supporting women in crisis pregnancies with everything that they need to make an empowered choice for motherhood. I am also involved in supporting women who have had abortions and are struggling with the consequences of it. I’ve grown close to many of the women I’ve been able to support over the years, and it breaks my heart to know that so many more go through this every day.”

She added,

“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. 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.”

Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom U.K., which is representing Vaughn-Spruce, said,

“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 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. We are at serious risk of mindlessly sleepwalking into a society that accepts, normalizes, and even promotes the ‘tyranny of the majority.’”

More censorship zones are being considered for other parts of England, as well as Wales. The legislation currently being debated would ban pro-life volunteers from influencing, persuading, informing, occupying space, or expressing an opinion near an abortion clinic. Those who break the anti-thought law could face two years in prison

This is where censorship leads. The U.K. has enthusiastically embraced censorship laws, which specifically prevent any dissent on certain issues. It has protected abortion providers and LGBT activists from even having to defend their views. Those who question these laws in any way are often arrested for violating speech laws.

This law was already detestable, but the way Vaughn-Spruce was arrested took it to another Orwellian level. A citizen called the police on another person as a result of what she was thinking inside her head. She was targeted for her private religious observance — no evidence, no witnesses, just accusation.

Smith-Connor, meanwhile, a veteran of the U.K. Armed Forces who fought to defend his country’s freedoms, is not even allowed to silently grieve the loss of his son at the place where his son died.

The U.K. is so worried that others might hear a different view on abortion that they have apparently outlawed thoughts. Pro-abortion advocates are so afraid of dissent and so hateful towards those with religious beliefs that it is illegal to disapprove of terminating the life of a preborn child. This is the logical outworking of hate speech orders.

Americans shouldn’t think this is only a problem in other parts of the world. With government-initiated and Big Tech-enabled online censorship and the Department of Justice now specifically targeting pro-lifers while ignoring pro-abortion terrorists who attack churches and crisis pregnancy centers and attempt to intimidate Supreme Court Justices, Americans should be aware.

Big Brother is already taking steps to shut down free speech, particularly religious speech, that dissent from approved secular ideology.

John 3:19-21 says,

“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

The world will try to silence God’s Word shining light on their sin. Christians must continue to speak the truth and continue to publicly pray.

Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.

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