A British woman arrested in December 2022 for silently praying outside an abortion clinic in Birmingham, England, has been formally acquitted of all criminal charges. The ruling was made by the Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, according to Alliance Defending Freedom U.K. (ADF UK), the law firm representing Vaughan-Spruce.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was criminally charged with “protesting and engaging in an act that is intimidating to service users” – that is, for praying in a censorship zone established by the local city council. The censorship zone prohibits advocates from activities the government believes will foster “anti-social behavior” near abortion facilities.
Vaughan-Spruce was interrogated by police officers while standing across the street from an abortion facility. She was searched and arrested after she admitted that she “might be” silently praying about the abortions being carried out nearby.
Authorities dropped the charges against Vaughan-Spruce earlier this month. However, she pursued a verdict in court to clear her name. In a public statement after the ruling, Vaughan-Spruce said, “I’m glad I’ve been vindicated of any wrongdoing. But I should never have been arrested for my thoughts and treated like a criminal simply for silently praying on a public street.”
“So-called ‘buffer zone legislation’ will result in so many more people like me, doing good and legal activities like offering charitable support to women in crisis pregnancies, or simply praying in their heads, being treated like criminals and even facing court,” Vaughan-Spruce added.
Local priest Father Sean Gough was also acquitted of criminal charges the same day. He had been arrested and charged after he silently held a sign reading “Praying For Free Speech” outside the same abortion clinic. He was charged with “intimidating service users” of the facility for merely holding the sign. Officers also cited him for displaying a bumper sticker on his car that read, “Unborn Lives Matter.”
Jeremiah Igunnubole, a lawyer with ADF UK, said the case is “of great cultural significance.” “This isn’t 1984, but 2023. Nobody should be criminalized for their thoughts, for their prayers, for peaceful expression on a public street,” he added.