This is when police told a Catholic woman that “praying is a crime” as she was arrested a second time outside an abortion clinic just weeks after being acquitted of the same crime.
Video shared online shows Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, director of anti-abortion group March for Life UK, arrested outside BPAS Robert Clinic in Kings Norton, Birmingham.
Officers are asking Ms. Vaughan-Spruce to step “outside the exclusion zone” that exists around the clinic. However, she tells officers she is “not protesting” and “is not engaged in any of the prohibited activities.”
Police respond, “But you said you’re praying, which is the offense,” to which she replies, “Pray quietly.”
Video shared online shows Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, director of anti-abortion group March for Life UK, being arrested outside BPAS Robert Clinic in Kings Norton, Birmingham
Officers are asking Ms. Vaughan-Spruce to step “outside the exclusion zone” that exists around the clinic. However, she tells officers she is ‘not protesting’ and ‘is not engaging in any of the prohibited activities’
The officer then says, “No, but you were still praying. It’s a violation,” to which Mrs. Vaughan-Spruce replied, “I don’t agree.”
She was subsequently apprehended by six officers.
In a statement through her legal representatives, ADF UK, Ms Vaughan-Spruce said: ‘Just three weeks ago it was made clear by the court that my silent prayers were not a crime.
‘And yet I was arrested again and treated as a criminal because I had the exact same thoughts in my head, in the same place.
The ambiguity of laws restricting freedom of expression and thought – even in peaceful, consensual conversation or in silent, internal prayer – leads to bitter confusion at the expense of important fundamental rights. No one should be criminalized for his thoughts.’
Ms Vaughan-Spruce was confronted by police on 6 December as she stood on the street outside the BPAS Robert Clinic in Kings Norton, Birmingham.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce (right) pictured outside Birmingham Magistrates’ Court last month with Father Sean Gough
According to ADF UK, a charity that works to protect free speech and has campaigned against the buffer zones – areas around clinics cordoned off for anti-abortion activists – Ms Vaughan-Spruce is subject to bail conditions that prohibit her from being in the area from the abortion facility.
What are PSPOs and how do they stop protests around abortion centers?
Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) are intended to enable municipalities to prevent anti-social behaviour.
Councils were given the power to enforce them in 2014 through Section 59 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Police Act.
The authority lists the activities prohibited within a specific geographic area, with an initial fine of £100 that can rise to £1,000 if it goes to court.
MPs have also introduced buffer zones around abortion clinics following an amendment to the law on public order.
This makes it a criminal offense to intimidate or harass anyone within 150 meters of the buildings.
Anyone found guilty of breaking the zone to intimidate, threaten or persuade women faces a fine of six months in prison, up to two years if convicted.
The change in law stemmed from concerns about municipalities being sued by anti-abortion activists challenging PSPOs.
West Midlands Police confirmed yesterday that a 45-year-old woman has been arrested on suspicion of breaching a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), following complaints from members of the public.
They said: ‘The woman was advised to leave the area but refused, before being fined a fixed amount. When she refused to leave again, she was arrested.
“She has now been released on bail while statements are being taken from residents and people working in the area.”
The force added: ‘This order has been issued by a court, following a joint request from West Midlands Police and Birmingham City Council, to protect women from harassment in any way if they seek a medical procedure or advice in an abortion clinic.
“Our role is to enforce the PSPO and reassure those it was supposed to protect.”
The arrest comes just weeks after she was found innocent by Birmingham Magistrates Court of praying silently outside the BPAS Robert Clinic in Kings Norton, Birmingham, on December 6.
Her arrest sparked a fierce debate, with supporters saying she had effectively been arrested for ‘thought crimes’, a term used by ADF UK, but she was cleared of all charges.
Following her acquittal, Ms Vaughan-Spruce said in a statement out of court: ‘I am pleased to have been vindicated for any wrongdoing. But I should never have been arrested for my thoughts and treated like a criminal simply for praying silently in the street.”
Buffer zones make it a criminal offense to intimidate or harass anyone within 500 feet of an abortion clinic and were introduced last year as an amendment to the Public Order Act.
The exclusion zones are areas around clinics where abortion-specific harassment, such as displaying graphic signs, following and filming women, and repeatedly approaching women and doctors, is not allowed.
The UK’s first buffer zone was introduced in 2018 around an abortion clinic in Ealing, west London.
Buffer zones have been hailed by pro-choice campaigners as an important step toward destigmatizing abortion and preventing harassment of those who visit abortion clinics.
However, critics see them as an attack on freedom of expression.
MEPs will debate the roll-out of buffer zones in England and Wales today.