Police in Birmingham, England, have again arrested a woman praying silently outside a closed abortion clinic, a little more than two weeks after an acquittal on the same charges, her attorneys said Monday.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, a Catholic pro-life volunteer, was arrested by West Midlands Police Monday for standing near the British Pregnancy Advisory Service’s clinic in the Kings Norton area of Birmingham.
An online video posted on Twitter by ADF UK, the British arm of Alliance Defending Freedom, shows Ms. Vaughan-Spruce being told by an unidentified police officer that her silent prayer “is the offense” against a Public Spaces Protection Order that bans protest by “graphic, verbal or written means, prayer or counseling.”
She is addressed by an unidentified West Midlands constable, who acknowledged the PSPO bans “protest.”
“But people know who you are and they know why you’re here. … And it’s their perception of events, isn’t it?” the constable told her.
Ms. Vaughan-Spruce told police she understood that a ticket would be issued and that she would be arrested should she refuse to step outside the restricted area, which is what ADF UK said took place.
“It is outrageous that Isabel was arrested for the same act — peaceful and entirely silent prayer — for which she was acquitted last month,” said Elyssa Koren, legal communications director for ADF International. “Her second arrest shows the state of mass legal uncertainty that censorship zones engender.”
Ms. Vaughan-Spruce has been through this before. Her arrest last Dec. 6 for “praying in my head” was dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service, although she was warned a prosecution could be revived if “additonal evidence” came to light.
She demanded a court trial, which is her right in the British legal system, and a magistrates’ court in Birmingham acquitted her on Feb. 16. Also acquitted was the Rev. Sean Gough, a Roman Catholic priest also arrested for praying near the clinic outside of its business hours.
On Tuesday, the House of Commons will debate amendments to the Public Order Bill that would criminalize any form of “influencing” outside of abortion facilities. ADF UK said penalties could include a prison term of up to two years for offenders.
Andrew Lewer, a Conservative MP for Northampton South, has proposed two changes to the legislation that would exempt “consensual” communication, silent prayer, and peaceful presence at clinics from being criminalized. His second proposal would put a hold on implementing “censorship zones” near clinics until a government review is completed.
Writing in the Daily Express, Mr. Lewer said, “We do not need ‘thoughtcrime’ introduced in the United Kingdom.”
Repeated efforts to contact the West Midlands Police, the Crown Protection Service and the Home Office for either further information or comment were unsuccessful.