The arrest of catholic woman for ‘praying’ outside an abortion clinic has been slammed as a ‘thoughtcrime’ by her supporters while critics have accused of trying to ‘harass women’.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, director of anti-abortion group March for Life UK, was arrested after being accused of violating the council’s ‘buffer zone’ which bans protest nearby.
She was confronted by a police officer when she was standing on the street outside the BPAS Robert Clinic in Kings Norton, Birmingham.
The protestor, 45, was charged with four counts of violating the abortion clinic ‘buffer zone’ after she admitted that she might have been praying silently while standing outside.
She had been standing there some time, and was not carrying a sign, when an officer approached after a complaint from a member of the public on December 6.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce (pictured), director of anti-abortion group March for Life UK, has been arrested for ‘praying’ outside an abortion clinic
Ms Vaughn-Spruce, 45, was confronted by a police officer when she was standing on the street outside the BPAS Robert Clinic in Kings Norton, Birmingham
The West Midlands Police officer told the campaigner that he had to caution her and then asked her: ‘What are you here for today?’
‘Physically, I’m just standing here,’ Mss Vaughan-Spruce, from Malvern, Worcestershire, replied.
‘Why here of all places? I know you don’t live nearby,’ the officer asked.
She responded: ‘But this is an abortion centre.’
The officer said: ‘Okay, that’s why you’re stood here. Are you here as part of a protest? Are you praying?’
She denied she was protesting but when asked if she was praying she said: ‘I might be praying in my head, but not out loud.’
The officer then arrested her on suspicion of failing to comply with a public spaces protection order.
She is now due to appear at Birmingham Magistrates Court on February 2 charged with four counts of failing to comply with a Public Space Protection Order.
The order which was introduced on September 7 makes it illegal to protest by engaging in act of approval or disapproval, including prayer and protest in a buffer zone around the clinic on Station Road.
The Birmingham City Council order said: ‘This includes but is not limited to graphic, verbal or written means, prayer or counselling.
‘Interfering, or attempting to interfere, whether verbally or physically, with a Robert Clinic service user, visitor or member of staff.
‘Intimidating or harassing, or attempting to intimidate or harass, a Robert Clinic service user, visitor or a member of staff.
‘Recording or photographing a Robert Clinic service user, visitor or member of staff.
‘Displaying any text or images relating directly or indirectly to the termination of pregnancy.’
Mrs Vaughn-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
The council have said that the measure was need so that people visiting and working at the clinic ‘have clear access without fear of confrontation’.
Mrs Vaughn-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.
‘Censorship zones 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 criminalised for thinking and for praying, in a public space in the UK.’
‘Isabel’s experience should be deeply concerning to all those who believe that our hard-fought fundamental rights are worth protecting,’ said Jeremiah Igunnubole, Legal Counsel for ADF UK, the legal organisation supporting Vaughan-Spruce.
‘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.’
‘Isabel, a woman of good character, and who has tirelessly served her community by providing charitable assistance to vulnerable women and children, has been treated no better than a violent criminal.
‘The recent increase in buffer zone legislation and orders is a watershed moment in our country. We must ask ourselves whether we are a genuinely democratic country committed to protecting the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of speech.
‘We are at serious risk of mindlessly sleepwalking into a society that accepts, normalises, and even promotes the “tyranny of the majority”.’
As part of her conditions for bail, Vaughan-Spruce was told that she should not contact a local Catholic priest who was also involved in pro-life work – a condition that was later dropped.
Police also imposed restrictions, as part of her bail, on Vaughan-Spruce engaging in public prayer beyond the PSPO area, stating that this was necessary to prevent further offences.
A West Midlands Police spokesperson said: ‘Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, aged 45 from Malvern, was arrested on 6 December and subsequently charged on 15 December with four counts of failing to comply with a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO).
‘She was bailed to appear at Birmingham Magistrates Court on 2 February 2023.
‘The PSPO creates a zone around a specific facility to protect women from harassment by any means if they are seeking a medical procedure or advice at an abortion clinic.’