Catholic Priest, Pro-Life Activist Cleared After Arrest for Silently Praying Outside Abortion Clinic

Father Sean Gough

A pro-life activist and a Catholic priest were cleared after both were arrested while silently praying outside an abortion clinic in England, their cases dropped on Thursday.

In December, footage went viral of the director of the UK March for Life, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce being interrogated and ultimately arrested by police under suspicion of praying silently insider her own head outside an abortion facility in Birmingham, which allegedly might have violated a buffer zone Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO).

The order, which was put in place in the area outside the facility came into force two months prior. In Britain, a PSPO is described as “an order that identifies the public place and prohibits specified things being done in the restricted area and/or requires specified things to be done by persons carrying on specified activities in that area.”

Following the widely panned incident, Father Sean Gough came to the same abortion clinic while holding the sign “praying for free speech“. For supposedly violating the anti-free speech zone diktats, the Catholic priest was also charged by policy for allegedly “intimidating service-users” of the clinic, despite it being closed at the time.

Police also charged Father Gough for parking his car in the area as it bore a bumper sticker reading: “unborn lives matter”.

However, on Thursday, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges against both Gough and Vaughn-Spruce due to “insufficient evidence.” The pair may not be completely out of the clear yet, as the CPS said that charges “may well start again” should evidence warrant it.

On the steps of the Birmingham Magistrates Court, Vaughn-Spruce said that she felt “completely vindicated of any wrongdoing” but said that “it should never have come to this, I never should have been arrested and criminalised simply for my private thoughts on a public street.”

She went on to say that she had been praying for women who eventually came to regret their abortions, and that the “true crime” is that women are “sold the lie that the answer to their difficulties in pregnancy is to take the life of their child and that those who are trying to offer alternatives are being branded as criminals and told that their behaviour is anti-social.”

Father Sean Gough, for his part, said: “Everyone has the right to pray in their mind… It’s wrong for the authorities to censor parts of the street from prayer, even silent prayer, from having peaceful conversations and sharing information that could be of great help to women who want an alternative choice to abortion. I pray everyday, wherever I go, and prayer can never be a crime.”

“Whatever your views on abortion, we should all be able to agree that in a democratic country, we should not be in the business of prosecuting thought crimes.

“If the government imposes censorship zones around every abortion facility in the country, as they are considering doing, who knows how many more people are going to stand trial, how many people are going to be put in prison for offering help, for praying in their mind?

“I call on the government to look to the overwhelmingly positive work that the vast majority of pro-life groups do to support vulnerable women at their point of need before censoring the streets of the United Kingdom and allowing good people to be criminalised for acts of love.”

Jeremiah Igunnubole, a legal counsel for ADF UK, the faith-based legal advocacy organisation that supported the defence for both Father Gough and Vaughan-Spruce said following the decision: “It is crucial that the Court issue a clear legal verdict in the cases of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce and Father Sean Gough.

“As our Parliament continues to debate the national rollout of censorship zones across England and Wales, it is imperative that we receive legal clarity given even the police and prosecution services can’t agree on what is and is not a crime.

“The reality is that every person should have their freedom to think or peacefully express themselves – including through prayer, or an offer of help to women facing crisis pregnancies – without running the risk of prosecution under vaguely worded and entirely disproportionate censorship zones”.

Despite its name, the Conservative Party has largely backed legislation from a far-left Labour MP to impose a national prohibition against protesting outside abortion facilities ban throughout in all of England and Wales. The legislation, which is still working its way through Parliament, would criminalise advising, informing, influencing, persuading, or even expressing an opinion on abortion within a 150-meter protest-free zone surrounding all clinics. Those in violation of the act would face a penalty of up to two years in prison.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka


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