Currently up for debate in the Parliament of the United Kingdom is a bill to put in place so-called "buffer zones" around abortion facilities throughout all of England and Wales. This could amount to one of the most egregious violations of free expression in the modern Western world.
Five U.K. municipalities already have these censorship zones in place, offering a harrowing glimpse into the largescale consequences for fundamental freedoms that surely will follow should this become a nationwide reality. In the past two months alone, the U.K. has seen the force of the law levied against three individuals for alleged breaches of censorship zones around abortion facilities.
Shortly before Christmas, video footage depicting the arrest of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce went viral. For many years, Isabel has volunteered her time to support pregnant women in need. For choosing to pray, in silence—in a censorship zone—she was interrogated, searched, arrested, and ultimately charged for "protest" and "engaging in an act that is intimidating to service users." Notably, the abortion facility was closed at the time that she stopped to pray. And yet, for silent prayer, she could be deemed a criminal in the eyes of the law.
Army veteran Adam Smith-Connor came next. Bournemouth, England, has in place an absurdly detailed "buffer zone" ordinance, eerily posted on a signpost delineating prohibited activities. These include sprinkling holy water, kneeling, reading scripture, and prayer considered to be an "act of approval/disapproval" toward abortion. Adam, like Isabel, chose to pray silently in a censorship zone for his son, lost years ago to abortion. After interrogating him about the contents of his private prayer, Bournemouth’s "community safety accredited officers" on patrol fined him for contravening the rules of the zone.
UK REPORT CLAIMS PRIEST CHARGED FOR HOLDING ‘PRAYING FOR FREE SPEECH’ SIGN, HAVING PRO-LIFE BUMPER STICKER
Most recently, Catholic priest Father Sean Gough has come under fire for violating the same Birmingham ordinance as Isabel. Father Sean dedicates much of his pastoral work to supporting women who have suffered from abortions. In fact, his own mother chose life for him after having been pressured to abort. He elected to pray in the censorship zone for the state of free speech in his country. To make his intentions unambiguous, he carried a sign stating, "praying for free speech," and then proceeded to pray in silence. For this, Father Sean was interrogated, threatened with arrest, and criminally charged.
Both Isabel and Father Sean later received notifications that their charges were dropped; however, prosecuting authorities indicated that they could be reinstated should more evidence come to light. Isabel and Father Sean are heading to court on Feb. 16 to pursue a clear verdict in the hopes of clearing their names and gaining clarity as to the legality of their silent prayers.
Censorship zones do absolutely nothing to help women. They penalize and prosecute peaceful prayer and make thought crimes a verifiable reality in today’s world. Censorship zones stifle basic human rights and block women from hearing about genuine offers of charitable help available should they want an alternative to abortion.
Any claim that censorship zones are needed to stop harassment is a flat-out lie. No woman should face harassment, but the law already makes harassment a prosecutable offense. Don’t be fooled—women don’t need "buffer zones" covering miles of public streets to stop harassment that is already prosecutable under the law.
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Ultimately, this issue transcends one’s stance on abortion. Deriving from World War II, "buffer zones" is a war term—by definition, pitting opposing sides against one another with the carving out of supposedly neutral territory in between. Let’s reserve war language for actual war. Issues of contention that carry profound moral, spiritual, and emotional consequences warrant more—not less—conversation. And it is not the role of the government to designate when and where those peaceful conversations can happen.
Although from different walks of life, Isabel, Adam, and Father Sean share a profound commitment to the protection of unborn life and to empowering women to choose life. Everyone has the right to think, act, and, yes, pray in accordance with their convictions. A democracy like the U.K. has no business policing thought crimes, and we must guard against the exportation of this insidious trend to the rest of the Western world. We must vigilantly defend the right of all people to pray freely.