A charity worker in the United Kingdom is facing criminal charges after she was arrested for admitting she “might” be silently praying in the vicinity of an abortion clinic.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who is the director of the pro-life organization March for Life UK, was detained by authorities outside the BPAS Robert Clinic in Kings Norton, Birmingham in November. She has since been charged with four counts of violating a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO).
The area around the abortion clinic is subject to a PSPO to prevent anti-abortion groups from congregating in the vicinity of the clinic over fears that those wishing to access its services could be subject to interference or intimidation.
The order prohibits “protesting, namely engaging in any act of approval or disapproval or attempted act of approval or disapproval, with respect to issues related to abortion services, by any means,” including “graphic, verbal or written means, prayer or counseling” outside the abortion clinic.
According to ADF UK, an organization which is assisting Vaughan-Spruce with her case, the pro-life activist was approached by authorities after “police had received complaints from an onlooker” about her presence in the area.
“Vaughan-Spruce was carrying no sign and remained completely silent until approached by officers,” AFD UK stated.
When asked by police why she was standing on a public street near to the abortion facility, the woman said she was not protesting. When asked whether she was praying, she replied: “I might be praying in my head, not out loud.”
She was subsequently arrested, searched, and taken to a local police station to be processed and questioned further.
ADF UK claimed Vaughan-Spruce had effectively been arrested for a “thought crime.”
Footage of the arrest has been widely circulated on social media, prompting outrage from pro-life organizations, conservative commentators, and free speech advocates.
Following her arrest for silent prayer, Vaughan-Spruce said: “It’s abhorrently wrong that I was searched, arrested, interrogated by police, and charged simply for praying in the privacy of my own mind.”
She denounced censorship zones around abortion clinics, which are currently under legislative review in the U.K., claiming they “purport to ban harassment, which is already illegal.
“Nobody should ever be subject to harassment. But what I did was the furthest thing from harmful – I was exercising my freedom of thought, my freedom of religion, inside the privacy of my own mind.
“Nobody should be criminalized for thinking and for praying, in a public space in the U.K.,” she added.
A crowdfunder to support the pro-life activist through the legal process has been launched and at the time of writing has raised £5,325 out of a proposed £40,000 sum.
“Isabel is currently out on bail, with police-imposed restrictions including engaging in public prayer, even beyond the PSPO area, stating that this is necessary to prevent further offenses,” the crowdfunder states.
“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,” said Jeremiah Igunnubole, Legal Counsel for ADF UK.
“A mature democracy should be able to differentiate between criminal conduct and the peaceful exercise of constitutionally protected rights,” he added.
A petition has also been launched on the Citizen Go website, calling on Home Secretary Suella Braverman to personally intervene and ensure that all charges against Vaughan-Spruce are dropped. The petition had amassed over 34,000 signatures at the time of writing.