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US condemns UK for praying woman’s abortion clinic arrest

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A US government agency has condemned the UK for “targeting religious expression” over the arrest of a woman who prayed silently in an abortion clinic “buffer zone”.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom  included the arrest of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, an anti-abortion campaigner, in Birmingham last year in its annual list of violations of religious freedom around the world.

Ms Vaughan-Spruce said she had been targeted for “thought crime” after she was arrested for praying silently outside an abortion clinic in March 2023.

A video posted online showed six officers remonstrating with her in front of a British Pregnancy Advisory Services clinic that was subject to a “buffer zone” order. She was not carrying a placard and did not say anything about abortion procedures aloud.

West Midlands Police later released her without charge and apologised.

The incident was highlighted in the annual report from the commission, an independent agency that makes recommendations on protecting religious freedom.

Under the heading “religious freedom concerns in Europe”, the report said: “During the year, several European governments targeted individuals for their peaceful religious expression.

Home Office to issue buffer zones guidance

“In England in March, authorities in Birmingham arrested and launched an investigation against Isabel Vaughan-Spruce for silently praying outside an abortion clinic within a ‘buffer zone’ where a city council order prohibits protests, including prayer.

“By the end of September, the city announced that it would not charge Vaughan-Spruce.”

The Home Office is due to release guidance on the enforcement of buffer zones after they were approved last year in response to the harassment of women visiting the clinics for abortion procedures.

MPs say the zones are required to allow women to access abortion services, and that protesters outside clinics add to the stress of terminating a pregnancy. The rules ban protest by “graphic, verbal or written means, prayer or counselling”.

But campaigners and MPs have said silent prayer should never be considered a form of protest, and have called for the Government to make clear to police that the right to pray should be protected within the buffer zone rules.

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