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World News

Woman arrested for silent prayer near abortion clinic testifies against buffer zone bill in Scottish Parliament

by Heather Preston

A woman who was famously arrested for praying in her head close to an abortion clinic, will testify “tolerance over censorship” on Tuesday, as proposed buffer zone legislation is considered at Holyrood.

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was detained after silently praying outside a closed abortion clinic located within a Birmingham buffer zone - an area that bans behaviour that may intimidate women entering an abortion clinic, last year.

She was initially charged with “engaging in an act that is intimidating to service users”, and later acquitted at Birmingham Magistrates Court.

Proposed legislation to ban protests and prayer outside abortion clinics are being brought before Scottish Parliament this week. The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill would ban people within a 200m boundary of an abortion centre from “harassing, trying to influence or prevent” patients from accessing these services.

Vaughan-Spruce, who has had multiple encounters with the police for silent prayer near abortion clinics, will address the parliamentary Committee on Health, Social Care and Sports on Tuesday.

The Catholic campaigner is expected to raise concerns that the proposed legislation could leave others at risk of being criminalised over prayer.

“After having to clear my name in court I was rearrested two weeks later being told ‘my prayers were an offence.’

“Nobody should be punished for a ‘thoughtcrime’,” She is expected to say.

The Bill, introduced by Green MSP Gillian Mackay aims to create "safe access zones" around all abortion services in Scotland.

Vaughan-Spruce argues that the Bill goes further than “banning harassment”, which she agrees should be condemned.

“Buffer zones go much further than only banning harassment – and instead criminalise helpful charity work or even prayer.

“The buffer zone has created a huge amount of division in our area, and many locals tell me that they are now fearful to share their beliefs with their neighbours. The community has become polarised and the buffer zone has fostered intolerance.

“I wholly recommend that the Scottish government protect freedom of thought and of speech in Scotland, and promote tolerance rather than censorship.”

ADF UK spokesperson, Lois McLatchie Miller said the buffer zone bill is “one of the most extensive crackdowns on pro-life thought and speech we’ve seen.”

She argued the language of the bill could potentially ban prayer and peaceful pro-life speech within homes located in the buffer zones.

“It is vital that parliament uphold their duty to protect freedom of thought, offers of help, and consensual conversation,” she added.

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