A pro-life woman was arrested earlier this month for silently praying outside an abortion clinic in Birmingham, U.K. on the grounds that she had breached a speech buffer zone established by the local city council.
Police told Isabel Vaughan-Spruce that she would be taken into custody for violating a Public Space Protection Order. Video footage of the arrest was captured by AllThingsProLife and circulated by Alliance Defending Freedom, which is hosting a fundraiser for Vaughan-Spruce’s legal defense.
When officers asked whether she was part of a protest, she replied “no.” They then asked if she was praying, to which she said she could be doing so “in my head.” Police then searched her, and patted down her hair, before handcuffing her and escorting her to the station.
Vaughan-Spruce was subsequently charged last week with four counts of failing to comply with a Public Space Protection Order, which prohibits certain activities that foster “anti-social behaviour,” according to the policy. The directive is supposed to allow local authorities to “counter unreasonable and persistent behaviour that affects the quality of life of its residents,” though it remains unclear which specific behaviors violate the law.
In the London Borough of Brent, for example, the PSPO was designed to combat public defecation, alcohol use, aggressive solicitations for employment, and the running of an unlicensed transport service. The PSPO guidebook also has a section for controlling dangerous dogs.
Five local councils have already created such zones, with some carefully advertised with signs detailing that free speech is limited on the premises. In October, a PSPO was declared around an abortion facility in Bournemouth, U.K. A picture of a sign, obtained by ChristianConcern.com, outlined the surface area in red where a number of activities were banned. Among them were “prayer or counseling” as well as “holding vigils where members audibly pray, recite scripture, genuflect, sprinkle holy water on the ground or cross themselves if they perceive a service-users is passing by.”
The PSPO order that Vaughan-Spruce allegedly broke was imposed by the Birmingham City Council on September 7, outlawing all abortion demonstrations outside the clinic. When she stood in front of the building by herself, Vaughan-Spruce reportedly did not carry a poster, candles for a vigil, or graphic pictures that might be deemed disturbing to local residents, according to the video. Vaughan-Spruce is scheduled to appear at Birmingham Magistrates Court on February 2, 2023.
“The PSPO protecting the area around Robert Clinic focuses on ensuring people visiting and working there have clear access without fear of confrontation. Any local authority seeking to implement a PSPO must have robust evidence for its introduction, which guides the conditions and location – this includes concerns and complaints received from the community,” a Birmingham City Council spokesperson said when the order was granted.
Prior to the order’s enforcement, it was subject to public consultation to seek views and wider input. “All contributions received during the consultation were included in the evidence that informed the final scope and conditions,” the spokesperson added. The restricted zone was supposed to be expanded to also include nearby schools and churches, but that was abandoned after the public comment period.