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Woman warns freedom under fire after police encounters over 'thought crime' of prayer: 'Nothing they can't do'
November 03 2023, 08:00

Pro-life activist Isabel Vaughan-Spruce has received pushback multiple times for praying inside a Birmingham, England abortion center's "buffer zone" within the past year. 

She says "thinking" was her crime, but now she's using her voice to caution the free world that the freedoms that make it so special may be slipping away. 

"I've been praying outside abortion centers for about 20 years, and I know dozens and dozens of women who are very grateful for that prayer," she told Fox News Digital on Tuesday. 

But trouble for Vaughan-Spruce started last year after local officials implemented a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), putting in place a buffer zone around the abortion center in Birmingham.


"At the end of last year, when I went to silently pray inside this buffer zone, I was arrested, and I subsequently went to court, and I was completely acquitted of any wrongdoing," she said.

"About two weeks later, when I went to do the same thing – just silently praying, not interacting with anyone, no posters, no leaflets – I was again rearrested by six police officers who took me away in a police van and told me that my prayers were an offense. After six months of so-called investigation, I was told no charges were being brought against me for that either. Now I'm doing the same thing again, just silently praying. I had the police officers come out and tell me that they were going to give me a fixed penalty notice for breaching this zone."

Video of the incident that took place on Oct. 18 shows a female officer ask Vaughan-Spruce a series of questions, including if she was affiliated with a pro-life or pro-choice group and whether she was aware of the PSPO in place at the site.

Though Vaughan-Spruce was aware of the PSPO, she told the officer "I don't believe I need to," when asked if she would move elsewhere.


"We are seeing this happening across the country, but I think what's interesting is that we're seeing a difference of approach between police officers and ideological local authorities," Jeremiah Igunnoble, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom International, said. 

"Some police officers are arguing that, ‘Well, actually we have no power to continue an investigation,’ and what we've seen is a rise in local authorities increasingly saying, 'Well, if the police officers aren't going to do it, we're going to criminalize thoughts ourselves.' We think that's an extremely concerning development and is essentially unconstitutional here in the UK."

Igunnoble explained that a PSPO is not the equivalent of a no-trespassing zone. 

"If it was a no trespassing [space], then of course, Isabel and others would be in violation of it, but it's not. A Public Space Protection Order is an order introduced to essentially tackle harassment, intimidation or any particular activity as outlined by the local authority and so the emphasis really is of activities and not the people themselves," he said.

"With Isabel's case, presence is not in and of itself the criminal act. For the police or the council to prove their case, they have to point to a particular activity. So Isabel could well be waiting for a friend or thinking about climate change. None of that would be criminal in and of itself…


"The order bans specifically prayer and counseling," he continued. "And the legal issue in Isabel's case is simply is silent prayer included [in that ban]? If so, what the local authorities are actually saying is the thoughts in your mind are also criminalized… we've labeled this a thought crime quite appropriately, but it's not just any thoughts. It's two types of thoughts. It's the ban on thoughts raised towards God, specifically prayer and also a ban on thoughts relating to abortion."

Shawn Carney, CEO of the pro-life group 40 Days for Life, warned that persecution is already in the United States.

"We're typically about ten years behind the Brits with a lot of stuff culturally, and now it's here," he told Fox News Digital on Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, Vaughan-Spruce says she has received overwhelming support for her right to pray wherever she chooses. 

"It's worth pointing out how much support I've received from people who have a different perspective on abortion, who maybe would say that they support abortion or people who say that they don't have any religious beliefs at all, but both of those two groups are still supporting the right to be able to silently pray wherever you want, and I think recognizing that this isn't just about the abortion issue, isn't just about religion, it's even more fundamental, like freedom of thought. You can't get more basic than that," Vaughan-Spruce said.

Fox News Digital reached out to West Midlands Police for comment last week and received the following response:

"A woman has been given a written warning for breaching a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) in Station Road, Kings Norton on 18 October," the statement read.

"Due to ongoing reports made by local residents regarding anti-social behaviour, West Midlands Police in partnership with Birmingham City Council have successfully obtained the PSPO and the order is well publicised. Failure to comply with a PSPO is a criminal offence and further breaches will lead to a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) with a fine of up to £100 or prosecution via a court summons."

Fox News Digital reached out for further comment and is awaiting a response.

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