Tuesday 23 January 2024

Police continue to intimidate Isabel Vaughan-Spruce for ‘thinking’ outside abortion centre

The police force in Birmingham has again interrogated Isabel Vaughan-Spruce about what goes on inside her head outside an abortion centre. 

In footage obtained by ADF UK, a faith-based legal advocacy organisation, a police community support officer presses Vaughan-Spruce as to the nature of her silent thoughts while within the vicinity of an abortion centre-related “buffer zone”. 

The officer, employed by West Midlands Police, specifically asks Vaughan-Spruce if she is “here to pray for the lives of unborn children”. 

Vaughan-Spruce attempts to explain that she was “just simply thinking, silently in my head”.

Vaughan-Spruce, a volunteer who has provided charitable support for new mothers and women in crisis pregnancies for over twenty years, prays regularly, in silence, on the public street near an abortion centre, notes ADF UK. 

Vaughan-Spruce has now faced police interference on multiple occasions and been arrested twice on the basis of her silent thoughts and was fully vindicated in March 2023 when Birmingham Magistrates’ Court returned a not guilty verdict.

“I’ve been arrested twice and fully vindicated by a court verdict that upheld my freedom of thought, and yet even still, officers continue to interrogate me for the simple act of thinking prayerful thoughts on a public street,” Vaughan-Spruce says. “This isn’t 1984, but 2023. No matter one’s beliefs on abortion, nobody should be punished merely for the prayers they hold inside their head.” 

In September 2022, Birmingham local authorities installed the “buffer zone”, which forbids any expression of “approval or disapproval” of abortion, and prohibits making offers of charitable support to women, says ADF UK. 

Since the enforcement of the censorship zone, Vaughan-Spruce has limited her activity within the zone to silent prayer.

Free speech advocates have raised concerns regarding potential human rights violations caused by “buffer zones”, such as prohibiting consensual conversation between adults, in addition to silent prayer – all in contravention of human rights law. 

Adam Smith-Conner, an army veteran, has found himself in a similar position to Vaughan-Spruce and being prosecuted for his thoughts

Scottish Catholics have raised concerns about the strictness of buffer zone legislation being considered north of the border.

“Isabel is one of several individuals who has faced arrest, fines, and/or interrogations as to their thoughts inside a ‘buffer zone,’ which spans across several public streets,” says Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, which supported Vaughan-Spruce’s legal defence. 

“The UK must abide by its human rights obligations, under which nobody should be criminalised for their thoughts. It’s vital that we maintain this most basic standard of a liberal democracy. Once we allow for thought to be policed on one issue area, the precedent has been set for these abuses to proliferate. “

The UK parliament voted to roll out censorial “buffer zones” around abortion facilities across the country as part of the Public Order Act adopted in 2023. The national zones would prohibit “influencing” within 150m of abortion facilities. This new threshold for criminality has raised concerns about the ambiguity of what kind of activity may count as “influence”, ADF UK highlights.

The Home Office has issued draft non-statutory guidance for police and prosecutors regarding “buffer zones”, which clarifies – as required by international human rights law – that nobody should be arrested on the basis of their thoughts alone. 

ADF UK notes that free speech advocates have welcomed this clarification in the guidance that should ensure that citizens are not arrested solely on the basis of their silent thoughts. 

Yet concerns remain that the guidance could be changed – due to pressure from pro-abortion activists – enabling harsher censorship and restrictions for those like Vaughan-Spruce trying to peacefully act in accordance with their conscience. 

“Nobody should ever face harassment or aggression outside an abortion facility,” Igunnubole says. “But the law must protect the rights of those who are there to peacefully live out their convictions through offers of help or even silent prayer.”