Two British pro-lifers found not guilty of  thought crime—praying outside of abortion clinic

By Dave Andrusko

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce (center-left) and Father Sean Gough (center-right) celebrate their legal win outside the Birmingham Magistrates Court in Birmingham, England, on Feb. 16, 2023. (photo: March for Life UK)

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce and Father Sean Gough, a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, were found “not guilty” Thursday morning after being tried at a Birmingham Magistrates’ Court for the “crime” of praying silently outside an abortion facility.

SPUC reported that following her acquittal, Ms. Vaughan-Spruce said that “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.

“When it comes to censorship zones, peaceful prayer and attempts to offer help to women in crisis pregnancies are now being described as either ‘criminal’ or ‘anti-social’. But what is profoundly anti-social are the steps now being taken to censor freedom of speech, freedom to offer help, freedom to pray and even freedom to think. We must stand firm against this and ensure that these most fundamental freedoms are protected, and that all our laws reflect this.”

Vaughan-Spruce was arrested on December 6th and charged with “protesting and engaging in an act that is intimidating to service users,” for praying in a censorship zone established by the local city council,” according to Ari Blaff. “Advocates were prohibited from praying, distributing literature, and other activities deemed to foster “anti-social behavior” nearby a local abortion facility.

On a separate occasion, “Father Sean Gough prayed outside the same abortion facility while carrying a sign reading ‘praying for free speech,’” according to Jeremiah Igunnubole, Legal Counsel for ADF UK, who defended both Vaughan-Spruce and Father Gough.

Igunnubole said that winning the court 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.”

Michael Robinson, SPUC Executive Director for Public Affairs and Legal Services, said

“The acquittal of Isabel and Fr Gough is a significant victory – but we must not be complacent. Thoughtcrime in the UK remains a terrifying prospect that must be opposed and rejected once and for all.

“Clause 9 of the Public Order Bill, currently being debated in Parliament, threatens to rob British citizens of their hard-won rights to speech free and religious expression. Buffer zones are inherently authoritarian, even seeking to outlaw silent prayer within the confines of an individual’s head.

“While it is absurd that such an inoffensive, peaceful and prayerful person as Isabel was arrested and put on trial, this nevertheless happened in the UK, where persecution of pro-lifers and religion has now become the order of the day.”

Robinson concluded

“Such persecution is unacceptable and a breach of human rights. The Government must act with immediate effect to protect the right to free speech of all its citizens.”