Pro-life activist tells meeting about being arrested praying near abortion clinic

A woman who was arrested while praying in silence outside an abortion clinic in the UK was in Dublin on Saturday for the Rally for Life and told a gathering before the march about her ordeal. Some local councils in Britain have introduced exclusion zones outside centres that provide abortions and the Irish government wants to introduce a similar prohibition here in Ireland, but on a national basis, which would make us an outlier internationally.

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).

She was accused of breaching a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) issued by Birmingham City Council that prohibits any act of disapproval of abortion services, by any means, “including prayer or counselling”, in the vicinity of some abortion clinics.

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.

It is uncertain whether this could also happen in Ireland. A Bill approved by the Government only last week will make it a criminal offence to “engage in conduct directed at the public or a section of the public in a manner that is likely to influence the decision of a person in relation to availing of, or providing, termination of pregnancy services”. What does this mean?

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.

An attempt to impose exclusion zones in one part of Germany was recently found to be against the freedom of assembly by a federal court.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce has been involved in pro-life activism for years. She recalled the hostile reactions she has experienced from time to time. She said: “we were sworn at, spat at, physically abused, we had our property stolen, we’d have cars driving down the street fast speed towards us, swerving off at the last minute, young women were told they’d be followed home, that things would happen to their families. The aggression was terrible. There was even one person who had to do ‘restorative justice’ because we caught on camera the physical abuses he was giving to our volunteers.”
At least that person was justifiably found guilty of something. Isabel Vaughan-Spruce has been arrested twice for behaviour that any liberal democracy should permit.