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Woman arrested for silent prayer seeks clear verdict as charges are dropped, but further proceedings are suggested

Image Credit: ADF UK

A woman who was arrested and charged for praying silently outside an abortion clinic, has had the charges against her dropped, but has been told that the charges could be reinstated and prosecuted at a later date. She has committed to seeking a clear verdict on the case.

Shortly before Christmas, pro-life volunteer and Director of March for Life UK, Isabel Vaughan Spruce, 45, was arrested, searched and charged on four counts, after saying that she “might be” praying in her head, whilst standing near an abortion facility in Station Road in Birmingham. The claim was that she had breached the Public Space Protection Order surrounding the abortion facility, and was charged with “protesting and engaging in an act that is intimidating to service users” within a censorship zone. This was despite her making it clear that she was not protesting, and despite the abortion clinic being closed; thus no person was attempting to access the clinic at the time of her presence.  

The video of her arrest went viral, with many people, expressing concern over arrests being made over “thought crime”.

The DUP took to a debate in the House of Commons to warn against arrests for “thought crime”, and challenged the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, on exclusion zones outside abortion clinics, with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson deeming the arrest of Vaughan-Spruce as the “criminalisation of prayer”.

In a separate debate in the House of Lords last month, on a bill that would introduce censorship zones around abortion clinics across the UK, a number of peers including pro-abortion Baroness Claire Fox, expressed concern over the introduction of these zones. Expressing her belief that women should have the right to choose, she said that women “must be free to change their mind at any time and in any direction, up until either termination or what have you. It is not coercive if you think again.”

Represented by ADF UK, Vaughan-Spruce’s court case took place on Thursday 2nd February. The Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges against her, but also made it clear that the charges could be reinstated and prosecuted at a later date when further evidence is expected. However, she was also made aware of her right to seek a clear verdict, and Vaughan-Spruce has committed to seeking a verdict in court.

In a statement released by ADF UK, Vaughan-Spruce said, “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.”

“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 gruelling 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,” commented Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK.

After the court’s decision, Vaughan-Spruce spoke to GB News about the case and why she is pursuing a clear verdict.

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