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UK government approves buffer zones around British abortion clinics, silent prayer banned

Members of Parliament in the UK debated and voted this Tuesday on an amendment to a bill that would seek to provide a 150 metre buffer zones around all abortion clinics in the country.

The Public Order Bill was introduced in May last year, however, due to ambiguity and concerns over a clause that would make “influencing” a person who is seeking to access a clinic illegal, Andrew Lewer MP proposed an amendment that would ensure that silent prayer and consensual conversation would not be banned.

MPs debated the amendment yesterday, and voted against it with 116 to 299 votes. Thus, banning silent prayer and consensual conversation within the buffer zones.

A second amendment was also proposed which required a review of the buffer zones to take place prior to its implementation. However, this amendment was not taken to a vote.

Many MPs spoke up to express their concerns over banning silent prayer.

“Censorship is a notoriously slippery slope,” said Andrew Lewer MP. “Private prayer is… a fundamental human right in the United Kingdom.”

“My concern is that in asserting a general principle… we are making a momentous step, we are crossing an enormous river. When we criminalise prayer… or indeed consensual conversations… we are doing something of enormous significance,” said Danny Kruger MP. “My concern is with the principle we are setting here… where does this lead?”

“Silent prayer and consensual conversations should not be banned… we will be arresting people for prayer… I ask all Conservative members… to think about this amendment… to allow people to pray,” urged Nick Fletcher MP.

Fletcher also pointed out how women have and can continue to benefit from having a pro-life witness outside abortion clinics “[Women] might actually want somebody to turn to… And if somebody is being coerced… and to have a forced abortion, that could be somebody… who is actually there to help.”

Referring to the recent case of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce who was arrested for saying she “might be” praying in her head, Edward Leigh MP pointed out that "the police officer asked her [Vaughan-Spruce], 'are you praying?'. In other words, there was nothing she was obviously doing which was harassment or in anyway obviously objectionable. The police officer had to actually go into her mind."

Vaughan-Spruce was acquitted of the charges, however, just weeks after her victory, she was arrested again on similar charges.

“A large number of MPs spoke in the debate against the introduction of buffer zones and in support of the above amendments,” said Right to Life UK. “Sadly, it appeared the majority of the MPs who voted down this amendment tonight were not in the chamber to hear these speeches during the debate, and only arrived in the chamber when the division on the amendment was called.”

The defeat of this amendment has given cause for concern, particularly amongst the pro-life community, as not only can people be arrested for thought crime, but pregnant women will now be denied the chance to receive support or the chance to change their mind on their abortion.

“Apparently 299 MPs are proud to vote in favour of silent prayer being banned. Welcome to England and Wales where you can be arrested for thoughtcrime,” said The Good Counsel Network in an online post. The Good Counsel Network are a UK based organisation that provide support for women during their pregnancy.

“The issue is not whether you approve of what this woman is doing, but whether you approve of giving the police the power to arrest someone for praying silently in a public place. Never in modern British history have we criminalised thought,” tweeted Danny Kruger MP in response to the vote.

SPUC’s Alithea Williams commented that "today MPs have proved that they approve of arresting people even for silent prayer. They heard the outrageous example of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce being arrested for silently praying in Birmingham and decided this needed to happen nationwide."

“This is not just an outrageous assault on civil liberties, it removes a real lifeline for women,” she continued. “Many children are alive today because their mother received help and support from a compassionate pro-life person outside a clinic. Many women feel pressured or coerced into having an abortion, and pro-life vigils give them options. Now their choices have been taken away.”

Attempts to ban peaceful protests outside abortion centres are also being pushed in Ireland. The banning of silent prayer and consensual conversation within UK buffer zones should give many people, including those outside the pro-life movement deep cause for concern, for this ban goes beyond the abortion issue, but down to the issue of thoughts, freedom of open discussion, and freedom to change one’s mind on a topic.

Yet, the most worrying aspect about the outcome of this vote, is the fact that UK MPs have actively voted to take away the chance for women to receive the help and support they may need during a difficult pregnancy, help they can avail of if they are being coerced into an abortion they do not want, and are also denying these women the chance to even change their mind and choose life for their baby. 

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