Silent prayer will continue to be banned in abortion clinic “buffer zones”

The director of the March For Life UK was arrested again near an abortion facility, 3 weeks after being acquitted for the same incident.

Evangelical Focus

ADF · LONDON · 10 MARCH 2023 · 16:00 CET

Image of the video recording of the detention of . Image: <a target="_blank" href="">ADF UK</a>.,
Image of the video recording of the detention of . Image: ADF UK.

The UK Parliament voted to expand the known as ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics across England and Wales, banning any form of “influencing a woman’s decision”, including silent prayer or consensual peaceful conversations.

The changing of the Public Order Bill to create 150-meter buffer zones around abortion clinics to hold pro-life groups at a distance, was passed last October, with a majority of 297 votes to 110.

It was first implemented in five local councils, making it illegal for a person who is in a buffer zone “to act with the intent of (a) influencing any person’s decision to access (b) obstructing or impeding any person accessing or (c) causing harassment, alarm or distress to any person in connection with a decision to access, provide, or facilitate the provision of abortion services”.


A majority against silent prayer and consensual peaceful conversations

Andrew Lewer MP proposed an amendment to the Bill, which would grant an exemption for silent prayer and consensual conversations, but it failed to pass after a vote of 116 to 299.

Lewer condemned harassment against women in every circumstance, but pointed out that “such actions are a world away from the police being able to detain people and question them for praying silently”.

Censorship of this sort is a notoriously slippery slope. It might not be your thoughts that are criminalised today, but I think we should all be careful not to open the door to that tomorrow about some other opinions that people may hold about something else”, he added.

Initially, the penalty proposed for violating the law was imprisonment, but it was later modified so violators will now have to pay a fine.


ADF UK: “Criminalisation of free thought”

According to Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for Christian organisation ADF UK, “this vote marks a watershed moment for fundamental rights and freedoms in our country”.

“Parliament had an opportunity to reject the criminalisation of free thought, which is an absolute right, and embrace individual liberty for all. Instead, it chose to endorse censorship and criminalise peaceful activities such as silent prayer and consensual conversation”, stressed Igunnubole.


New detention

The vote came the day after UK director of March for Life Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was arrested for the second time, for praying silently inside the ‘buffer zone’ of an abortion clinic in Birmingham.

Vaughn-Spruce was also arrested on December 6 for violating the Public Space Protection Order, after police received a complaint that she might be praying silently.

She was charged with protesting and engaging in an act that is intimidating to service users, but the prosecution could not provide enough evidence to sustain the offence and she won her case.

The pro-life activist lamented that “only three weeks ago, it was made clear by the court that my silent prayers were not a crime. And yet, again, I have been arrested and treated as a criminal for having the exact same thoughts in my head, in the same location” .

“The ambiguity of laws that limit free expression and thought, even in peaceful, consensual conversation or in silent, internal prayer, leads to abject confusion, to the detriment of important fundamental rights. Nobody should be criminalised for their thoughts”, underlined Vaughn-Spruce.

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