An army veteran has been fined for praying for his son near an abortion facility in Bournemouth.
The Christian legal organisation ADF UK says local authorities fined Adam Smith-Connor as he “stood still and silent” on a street for a few minutes before being approached by community safety accredited officers. He’s said to have had his back to the clinic in order to be mindful of the privacy of staff and people attending the facility.
Last year, some local authorities introduced buffer zones through a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) close to abortion facilities. They criminalise any act of approval or disapproval with respect to issues relating to abortion services, including prayer or counselling.
Mr Smith-Connor told the officers he was “praying for my son, who is deceased”. Twenty-two years ago, he had paid for his girlfriend to have an abortion – a decision he later regretted.
The council officer responded: “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 that therefore you are in breach of clause 4a, which says about prayer, and also acts of disapproval…”
When Smith-Connor interjected, “I’m just standing praying,” the officer again responded, “I do understand that. But the PSPO is in place for a reason and we have to follow through on those regulations.”
In an email, the Council stated that the fine was based on his statement that he had been “praying for his son, who is deceased”.
Reflecting on the penalty, Smith-Connor – who’s now challenging the fine - said: “Twenty-two years ago I drove my ex-girlfriend to a facility and paid for her to have an abortion. It was a pivotal moment in my life. The consequences of my actions that day came back to grieve me years later, when I realised 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. In the past, I assisted with abortions in hospital as part of my army medical training, but now I pray for those who perform abortions because I realise 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.”
In December, charity volunteer Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was arrested outside an abortion clinic in Birmingham. She was told by police she may have been silently praying near to the clinic. Ms Vaughan-Spruce is due before Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on 2nd February after being charged with breaching the local PSPO by silently praying in her mind.
Jeremiah Igunnubole, Legal Counsel for ADF UK, which is supporting Adam Smith-Connor said: “Nobody should be criminalised for what they believe – especially not when they express that belief silently, in the privacy of their own minds. Adam could now face prosecution for holding thoughts, and lifting those thoughts to God in prayer, within a censorship zone. The rapid proliferation of orders criminalising 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.”
ADF has written a public letter to the Home Secretary Suella Braverman asking her to reject all attempts to implement what it calls 'censorship' zones.