A day after a pro-lifer was arrested for a second time for silently praying near an abortion clinic in England, Parliament voted to expand censorial buffer zones around all abortion clinics across the U.K., banning anyone from attempting to influence — through thought, word, or deed — a woman’s decision to have an abortion.
Yesterday’s vote effectively expands the Public Spaces Protection Order across the entirety of England and Wales. That law, first implemented in October in five local councils, made it illegal to engage in various forms of “protest” in areas surrounding abortion clinics. Since then, multiple pro-lifers have been arrested for praying silently, including Isabel Vaughn-Spruce, who was charged by police in December and again this past Monday for the crime of “praying in her mind.”
Clause 10 of the Public Order Bill states,
“It is an offence for a person who is within a safe access zone to do an act with the intent of, or reckless as to whether it has the effect of— (a) influencing any person’s decision to access, provide or facilitate the provision of abortion services at an abortion clinic, (b) obstructing or impeding any person accessing, providing, or facilitating the provision of abortion services at an abortion clinic, or (c) causing harassment, alarm or distress to any person in connection with a decision to access, provide, or facilitate the provision of abortion services at an abortion clinic, where the person mentioned in paragraph (a), (b) or (c) is within the safe access zone for the abortion clinic.”
The safe access zones reach to 150 meters (over 492 feet) from any part of the abortion clinic.
Opponents of the order claim that it will ban prayer and consensual conversations. Indeed, prior to Tuesday’s final vote, Member of Parliament (MP) Andrew Lewer proposed a amendment to the law that would have permitted silent prayer and consensual conversations within the buffer zones, but that amendment was defeated easily.
Initially, the penalty proposed for violating the law was imprisonment, but it was later modified so violators will only have to pay a fine.
Still, bill opponents say that the government is effectively punishing people for exercising their right to free speech. Speaking in Parliament, Lewer stated,
“Censorship of this sort is a notoriously slippery slope. It might not be your thoughts that are criminalized today, but I think we should all be careful not to open the door to that tomorrow about some other opinions that people may hold about something else.”
MP Danny Kruger warned, “We are making a momentous step, we are crossing an enormous river. When we criminalize prayer… or indeed consensual conversations… we are doing something of enormous significance.”
Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom UK, released a statement saying,
“Today it’s abortion. Tomorrow it could be another contested matter of political debate. The principle remains that the government should never be able to punish anyone for prayer, let alone silent prayer, and peaceful and consensual conversation. Thankfully, where the clause initially called for a prison sentence for those convicted of engaging in these peaceful activities near abortion facilities, the penalty now has been reduced to a fine. Nevertheless, it is extremely regrettable that Parliament, which exists to protect and champion the rights of the electorate, has taken a clear stance against fundamental freedoms, opening the door for nationwide thought-crime prosecution.”
The new bill was passed a day after a video showing Vaughn-Spruce being harassed and threatened by police and then arrested as she stood silently with her eyes closed. The pro-lifer, who has been praying near abortion clinics for more than 20 years, was acquitted by a judge for the same offense less than a month ago.
Vaughn-Spruce was initially arrested on December 6 for violating the Public Space Protection Order after police received a complaint that she might be praying silently in her head. Police searched and arrested her and she was charged with protesting and engaging in an act that is intimidating to service users, even though she was praying outside of operational hours. The charges were later dropped, but when police said she could be re-arrested in the future, Vaughn-Spruce sought an official ruling and a judge found her not guilty.
Yesterday, the long-time charitable volunteer and devout Christian was again silently praying inside a censorship zone when police officers approached her. One of the officers asked her to step outside the exclusion zone, to which Vaughn-Spruce replied that she wasn’t protesting. “But you said you were engaging in prayer which is the offense,” the officer said.
Vaughn-Spruce clarified that it was silent prayer.
“No, but you were still engaging in prayer. It is an offense,” the officer stated.
No nation that passes laws banning silent prayer is a free nation. The U.K. conducted a review in 2018 and found that very little harassment took place outside of abortion clinics. The charge that there are mobs of hateful protestors outside abortion clinics harassing women is not even close to being factual. If this behavior does take place, it is not the norm. Instead, what you most often find are those seeking to provide women an alternative.
Regardless, this law has effectively banned prayer, both spoken and silent, in buffer zones surrounding all abortion clinics in England and Wales. This is far beyond the scope of Parliament.
The U.K., a nation that once was a Christian nation, has now fully given itself over to the god of abortion. The leaders of the U.K. have turned their backs on the Bible and the result is that they now punish any dissent of state-approved actions, language, or thoughts.
That is tyranny. British leaders have sold out their people and their country’s most cherished ideals.
Proverbs 17:15 says, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.”
Christians in the U.S. should pray for the U.K. that they would experience God’s grace and again practice righteous judgment. However, we must also pray diligently for our own nation because we are quick-stepping along the same downward spiral, just a few steps behind.
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.