English authorities accosted a British army veteran as he prayed silently in front of an abortion facility in Bournemouth in November, later issuing the man a 100-pound fine (about $123.65).
Adam Smith-Connor, the veteran who prayed, told authorities he was praying and was aware that the area around the abortion facility is governed by a protective order that bans prayer, among other activities. Smith-Connor captured the incident on video.
“Can I ask what is the nature of your prayer today?” a police officer responds.
Smith-Connor said he is praying for his son, who died in an abortion.
“I’m sorry for your loss, but ultimately, I have to go along with the guidelines of the Public Space Protection Order to say that we are in the belief, therefore, that you are in breach of the PSPO, which says about prayer and also acts of disapproval … ,” the officer said.
The Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole Council in Southern England began enforcing the order on Oct. 13, according to Alliance Defending Freedom UK, which is representing Smith-Connor in a legal challenge to the fine.
The order prohibits various activities in a four-block area around the British Pregnancy Advisory Service Clinic on Ophir Road in Bournemouth. It prohibits “protesting, namely engaging in an act of approval/disapproval or attempted act of approval/disapproval, with respect to issues related to abortion services, by any means. This includes, but is not limited to, graphic, verbal, or written means, prayer or counseling.”
The order also prohibits “interfering … whether verbally or physically, with a service user or member of staff,” “intimidating or harassing” patients or staff, “recording or photographing” patients or staff, “displaying text or images relating directly or indirectly to the termination of pregnancy,” holding vigils where people “audibly pray, recite scripture, genuflect, sprinkle holy water on the ground, or cross themselves,” and remaining in the area when police ask the person to leave.
The Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole Council did not respond to The Daily Signal‘s request for comment on this case.
“Censorship zones around abortion facilities directly contradict our fundamental rights, which are embedded in both domestic and international law—in particular, freedom of speech, religion, and thought,” Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, told The Daily Signal in a statement Thursday.
“Adam’s case comes amidst the growing restrictions on civil liberties in the UK, and is evidence that where the frontiers of freedom of speech are not robustly protected, it is only a matter of time before the state machinery feels emboldened to interfere with our most basic of rights—freedom of thought,” Igunnubole added.
Smith-Connor opened up about his son in comments to ADF UK.
“Twenty-two years ago, I drove my ex-girlfriend to a facility and paid for her to have an abortion,” he said. “It was a pivotal moment in my life. The consequences of my actions that day came back to grieve me years later, when I realized I had lost my son, Jacob, to an abortion I had paid for. Recently, I stood outside a similar facility and prayed to God for my son, Jacob, for other babies who have lost their lives to abortion, for their grieving families, and for abortion clinic staff.”
“I would never have imagined being in a position to risk a criminal record for praying silently,” Smith-Connor added. “In the past, I assisted with abortions in [the] hospital as part of my army medical training, but now I pray for those who perform abortions because I [realize] how harmful abortion is to women and families, and that every single human life is valuable—no matter how small. Most of all, I’m moved to pray because of what happened to my son, Jacob.”
Igunnubole, the legal counsel, noted in a press release the similarity between Smith-Connor’s case and that of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who was arrested after she said she “might” be praying silently in a Public Space Protection Order zone. She will appear before the Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on Feb. 2.
Police officers searched, arrested, and charged Vaughan-Spruce with “protesting and engaging in an act that is intimidating to service users,” citing their belief that the woman had been silently praying. Since the creation of the Public Space Protection Order censorship zone, Vaughan-Spruce had only prayed near the abortion facility while it was closed, ADF UK claims.
“Nobody should be [criminalized] for what they believe—especially not when they express that belief silently, in the privacy of their own minds,” Igunnubole added. “The rapid proliferation of orders [criminalizing] volunteers such as Adam and Isabel should be a wake-up call to all those who value freedom of expression—even freedom of thought—no matter their views on abortion.”
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