A pro-life volunteer has been arrested after allegedly being told by police that she might have been praying silently near an abortion clinic in Birmingham.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who is the Co-CEO of March for Life UK and runs 40 Days for Life Birmingham, was approached by officers and arrested close to the BPAS Robert Clinic in the Kings Norton area of the city following a complaint by a member of the public.
She said she was searched, arrested, interrogated and charged by police “simply for praying in the privacy of my own mind”.
The arrest comes in the wake of a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) issued by Birmingham City Council in September which bans pro-life activity in the immediate vicinity of local abortion clinics. 40 Days for life Birmingham is taking legal action against the PSPO.
Ms Vaughan-Spruce was charged with four counts of failing to comply with the PSPO. She was released on bail on the condition that she refrain from engaging in public prayer beyond the PSPO area.
She called her arrest “abhorrently wrong”.
“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,” she said.
“Nobody should be criminalised for thinking and for praying, in a public space in the UK.”
Jeremiah Igunnubole, Legal Counsel for ADF UK, which is supporting Ms Vaughan-Spruce, said that her experience “should be deeply concerning to all those who believe that our hard-fought fundamental rights are worth protecting”.
“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,” he said.
“A mature democracy should be able to differentiate between criminal conduct and the peaceful exercise of constitutionally protected rights. 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’.”