Local authorities in Bournemouth have filed criminal charges against Adam Smith-Connor, who was fined for praying silently within an abortion facility censorship zone or “buffer zone” last December.
The first hearing is set to take place at Bournemouth Magistrates’ Court on 9 August. The army veteran and father is expected to enter a plea of “not guilty” and the Court to set the date for his trial.
Smith-Connor was issued with a fixed penalty notice on 13 December 2022. The notice detailed that he had been “praying for his deceased son” a month earlier near an abortion facility on Orphir Road in Bournemouth which has a buffer zone in place.
Smith-Connor, who now regrets paying for an abortion for his ex-girlfriend more than twenty years ago, says he was praying about his experience, about the son whom he lost, and for the men and women facing difficult decisions about abortion today. He says he prayed with his back to the facility to avoid any impression of approaching or engaging with women using the centre.
Jeremiah Igunnubole who is counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) UK which is supporting Smith-Connor’s legal defence, says the charges brought by Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council come as a surprise and claim Smith-Connor wasn’t notified of the summons until two months after it was filed in May :
“In permitting the prosecution of silent prayer, we are sailing into dangerous waters regarding human rights protections in the UK. Censorship zones are inherently wrong and engender unhelpful legal confusion regarding the right to free thought. Both domestic and international law have long established freedom of thought as an absolute right that must not ever be interfered with by the state.”
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.
Earlier this year Isabel Vaughan-Spruce who was arrested for “silently praying” outside an abortion clinic in Birmingham had charges against her dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service.