Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was arrested and charged in Birmingham on 6th December last year while praying in silence across the road from an abortion clinic.
“I didn’t have any leaflet on me, no poster, or pro-life t-shirt or anything like that. I wasn’t manifesting my prayer in any way. And clearly, the thoughts inside my head, that can’t be prohibited by any law, because that is just my private business”, she told the meeting in Dublin (which was organised by Family Solidarity).
“I was asked [by police] if I was protesting, I made it clear I wasn’t protesting, but when I was asked if I was praying, I said I might be silently praying but not aloud, and I was arrested on that basis”, Isabel told the Saturday’s meeting. The video of this shocking incident went viral.
She was locked in a police cell for a few hours, and quizzed about her pro-life activities.
“The police particularly wanted to know what I was thinking about, what I have been praying for, and I stress that because some people say that it had nothing to do with your prayer, why you were arrested. It quite clearly was because this is what the police was quizzing me about when I was in the police station.”
Eventually, she was completely acquitted from all charges in February, together with a priest who was arrested, on a separate occasion, also for praying outside the same abortion clinic.
Two weeks after she was acquitted, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce went to pray in the same spot and was arrested again.
“Since I was completely acquitted, and vindicated of everything, I thought it is ok for me to go and do it right now. This time six police officers came with a van. The police officer told me: ‘your prayers are an offence’. When I said, I didn’t think prayers could be offensive, he just become more emphatic. ‘Your prayers are an offence’. And they took me away in a police van, I was in a cell for a while and eventually was released on bail.”
She has not been charged for this second arrest, but this might still happen.
It is astonishing that simple silent prayer is now illegal in some UK cities if it takes place close to an abortion clinic.
The concept of conduct likely to “influence” a decision is so broad and vague that it could include almost anything, and even if it does not include praying silently, then almost certainly it does include praying in an audible way, never mind holding up a banner of some sort.
The introduction of “exclusion zones” around hospitals and GP clinics has been delayed for a number of years in Ireland as it might be unconstitutional and even the Garda Commissioner said that there was no need for such legislation as harassment is already a crime.