A U.K. woman who has faced at least three run-ins with law enforcement — including two arrests — for silently praying outside abortion clinics said her now-viral legal battles have been “stressful” but she’s not backing down from defending her rights.
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Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, a pro-life volunteer and co-director of March for Life UK, made international headlines as her plight dragged on over the past year. It all began last December, when a viral video showed police detaining her over silent prayer — something that alarmed millions.
“On one level, it has been quite stressful in as much as it almost makes you feel quite vulnerable that the people who should be protecting your freedoms are the ones who seem [to be] attempting to deprive you of them,” she said.
But Vaughan-Spruce, who just last month was reportedly again threatened by police with a fine for praying outside a clinic after previously being cleared of past arrests and charges, said she’s also been heartened to see the support she’s received.
“The amount of support I’ve received from people who have told me that they actually support abortion, but they still support my right and other people’s right to be able to pray where they want to pray — people who say that they don’t have any religious beliefs, but they still recognize that people’s own private thoughts, whether they’re directed towards their God or not, are their own business,” she said.
Vaughan-Spruce continued, “And that’s really encouraging to see that people can recognize what’s going on here.”
She said the legal antics against her and others have created additional strife and division, with critics of the pro-life movement spitting at activists, swearing at others, and even physically attacking some.
“It hasn’t helped create any kind of peace,” Vaughan-Spruce said. “It’s just breeding more intolerance.”
She recounted her most recent interaction with police — one that came after she was again acquitted. Once more, she said she was silently praying and not holding any posters or leaflets. In fact, she wasn’t even engaging another human in any way.
“The police came and told me that they were going to issue me with a fixed penalty notice if I didn’t move outside the zone,” Vaughan-Spruce said. “I told them that I didn’t believe I needed to because all I was doing was silently praying, and so they gave me … the ticket.”
That ticket was reportedly later dropped, though she said the entire ordeal is “quite intimidating,” with mixed messages dominating her interactions.
Lois McLatchie, senior legal communications officer at ADF International, said plights like Vaughan-Spruce’s might seem like they’re ripped from the pages of “1984,” but are unfolding in the UK as the result of local ordinances blocking people from protesting outside clinics.
“They were advocated as part of a plan to reduce harassment against women, and ADF, and Isabel, and everybody who’s involved in this absolutely condemns harassment against women in any circumstance,” she said. “But, unfortunately, the legislation is so vaguely worded, and confusing, and broad that it even bans, offering help to somebody, offering a leaflet, offering charitable support, praying, and now we’re to understand that offices are even interpreting this as to apply to silent prayer.”
CBN News has covered the debate over the U.K.’s nationalized abortion “buffer zone” rules, under which no one is allowed to protest for 150 meters (over 490 feet) “from any direction” of the clinic. The nationwide implementation has reportedly been delayed, but is in effect in local jurisdictions.
And, as reported, Vaughan-Spruce is not the only person facing such legal battles. A U.K. man criminally charged after praying silently outside an abortion clinic in Bournemouth, England, recently detailed his own conundrum.
Adam Smith-Connor said he was outside the clinic last November for just two or three minutes before community police support officers approached him and started asking questions.
“[They] asked me what I was doing, and I said I was praying for my deceased son,” Smith-Connor explained. “The female officer asked me, ‘What is the nature of your prayer?’ I was a bit taken aback by that, and I said I was praying for my deceased son.”
Read more about his case here.
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