After a six-month investigation, the police in England decided to not bring charges against a woman for praying silently outside an abortion clinic.
The police apologized to Isabel Vaughan Spruce, director of UK March for Life for the time it took them to decide not to prosecute her for silent prayer. The charity volunteer was arrested in March after telling police that she “might be praying quietly” when asked why she stood on the street near an abortion clinic.
The abortion clinic is located in a buffer zone, which was created by the local authorities through a Public Spaces Protection Order. This order prohibits certain activities such as prayer that could be construed as a protest.
Vaughan-Spruce stated in a written statement that, upon receiving an apology from the police, she should never have been arrested for her thoughts because “this isn’t 1984 but 2023.”
“Silent prayer is never criminal,” she said. “I welcome West Midland Police’s decision to end their investigation and their apology for the time it took to do so, but it’s important to highlight the extremely harmful implications of this ordeal not just for myself, but for everyone concerned with fundamental freedoms in the UK.”
She added, “What happened with me is a warning to others who may face arrest, questioning, investigation, and possible prosecution if they are caught exercising their fundamental freedom of thought.”
Vaughan-Spruce, with the support of Alliance Defending Freedom UK (ADF), which has supported her legal defense, is evaluating options for pursuing redress in relation to her treatment by the police.
Vaughan-Spruce stated, “Now that authorities are twice in agreement that silent prayer isn’t a crime (a conclusion reached also by the Home Secretary the previous week), I am grateful to resume my silent prayers for women who have crisis pregnancies.”
Jeremiah Igunnubole said that ADF UK’s legal counsel, Jeremiah Igunnubole in a press release, stated in a democratic society, the right to free speech and expression of thought should not be criminalized.
🚨BREAKING: Isabel has been arrested, AGAIN, for THINKING.
MPs vote TOMORROW on banning silent prayer near all abortion facilities in🏴&🏴
“You’ve said you’re engaging in prayer, which is the offense.”
“You were still engaging in prayer, which is the offense.” pic.twitter.com/AId3OguiXz
— ADF UK (@ADF_UK) March 6, 2023
“We are happy that the police have dropped this investigation, and we apologize to Isabel for her long ordeal. But the truth is, by arresting people for their thoughts, the UK has sent a message to the world about how fundamental freedoms in the UK are not well protected,” he added.
The UK is considering legislation that would introduce similar censorship areas in other parts of England and Wales. Public Order Act passed by Parliament in 2023 would ban “influence” within a 150m radius of abortion facilities. However, free speech advocates are concerned that the vague language will criminalize peaceful conversations, leafleting, and prayer.
Igunnubole stated in his statement that the UK government must address the issue of ideological policing. This means protecting freedom of thought and speech and applying the law consistently. It is important that, at a time of low confidence in the police, officers never forget that their job is to protect people from crime and not to target law-abiding individuals for expressing diverse views.
He added, “ADF UK is proud to have supported Isabel’s legal defense.” “We are evaluating all legal options for Isabel’s treatment by the police.”