Court Acquits Two Who Prayed Near Abortion Clinic

Court Acquits Two Who Prayed Near Abortion Clinic

Above: Isabel Vaughan-Spruce stands with attorney Jeremiah Igunnubole.

A Magistrates’ Court in Birmingham, England, acquitted two people who had been arrested for standing quietly outside an abortion clinic.

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, the director of March for Life UK, was arrested in December for praying silently “in her head” in a “censorship zone” near an abortion clinic that was closed at the time of her arrest.

A viral video shows police asking her what she is doing. “I’m just standing here,” she says. The officer asks, “Are you standing here as part of a protest?” “No,” she answers. “Are you praying?” he asks. “I might be praying in my head,” she says. Vaughan-Spruce was arrested and taken into custody, prompting widespread outrage.

“Can you be arrested for quietly bowing your head in prayer? You can in the U.K.,” Franklin Graham said in a Facebook post. “Prayer is simply talking to God, and Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was arrested for praying silently on the sidewalk. Shame on the police for arresting her.”

Earlier this month, police dropped the charges against her, but they said the charges could be reinstated later, so Vaughan-Spruce chose to pursue a clear verdict in court. On Feb. 16, the court acquitted her of all charges.

“I’m glad I’ve been vindicated of any wrongdoing,” she said later. “But I should never have been arrested for my thoughts and treated like a criminal simply for silently praying on a public street.”

The court also acquitted a priest, Father Sean Gough, who had been arrested in the same censorship zone for holding a sign that read, “Praying for free speech.” Once again, the abortion clinic was closed at the time of his arrest.

Vaughan-Spruce and Gough were both represented by Alliance Defending Freedom International, which noted that the acquittals come as the House of Commons is preparing to debate a bill that would create censorship zones around abortion facilities across England and Wales.

“Today’s court case is of great cultural significance,” said Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom International. “This isn’t 1984, but 2023—nobody should be criminalized for their thoughts, for their prayers, for peaceful expression on a public street. It’s a great moment to celebrate the vindication of Father Sean and Isabel. But our parliament is considering rolling out censorial legislation, which could lead to more situations where people’s thoughts are on trial. Let’s be clear—if Isabel or Fr Sean had stood in the same spot thinking different thoughts, they likely wouldn’t have been arrested.

“We all stand firmly against harassment on public streets. Harassment is already illegal. A government review in 2018 found that harassment near abortion facilities is rare, and peaceful prayer and offers of charitable help were the most common activities there. The government concluded at that point that censorship zones would be disproportionate. No further reviews have since been conducted. What has now changed?

“This is the kind of peaceful activity that Father Sean and Isabel were engaging in—simply praying, without judging or condemning—simply praying. Their many years of support for women in crisis pregnancy, and support for women who have been negatively impacted by abortion, testify to their good character. It’s great that they have found justice, although with such grueling legal battles, the process is often the punishment. Their case may have closed today, but it should be marked in this conversation as a cautionary tale. In the U.K., freedom of thought, prayer, offers of help and peaceful conversation are not illegal, and we call on Parliament to reject the creation of more censorship zones through vaguely worded public order legislation.”

Photo: Alliance Defending Freedom International

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