Where God is not even allowed to be thought of
Interview with British pro-life activist Isabel Vaughan-Spruce
Where God is not even allowed to be thought of

Forrás: ADF UK

2024. 03. 06.
After England and Wales, Germany and Scotland would also introduce PSPO-s, which would prohibit anything deemed as "interference" around abortion facilities. Although it is not included in the text of the bills, through debate and practice it seems pro-life prayers are specifically targeted, whether they happen audibly or only in thought. We asked British pro-life activist Isabel Vaughan-Spruce - who has been arrested several times after praying silently around closed clinics - about the wave of Orwellian censorship.

Could you tell me a little bit about your background? What does following Christ mean to you? How did you get into pro-life activism, and why do you find it important to stand for the unborn?

I was brought up in a pro-life family but I believe being pro-life is the default position of any child, it’s the most natural thing in world to care for children and babies. All children are pro-life unless or until they are taught otherwise. Thankfully I wasn’t taught to dehumanise the preborn child and so

I grew up recognising the great injustice of abortion.

It wasn’t until my teens though that abortion began to mean something to me personally. I used to love reading war stories. Although you would see the depths of evil that humanity could sink to, you’d also see heroism at its finest too. And as you do when reading a book, I would place myself in those challenging situations and ask myself the question ‘What would I have done if I’d lived back then? Would I have had the courage to do anything? Would I have had the conviction to say anything?’ I gradually realised that I was asking the wrong question.

The only way of finding out what I would have done back then was to ask myself what am I doing now? There’s a battle for life going on – what am I doing about it?

We cannot put a price on the gift of life. Every single human being from the moment of conception has incalculable value – made in the image and likeness of our Creator. This of course is also true for those who have experienced the pain of an abortion or multiple abortions – to be able to help one of these people access God’s mercy is worth all of the effort we can give. To follow Christ means to me that you view every moment, every action, every decision, in light of eternity.

Ultimately, one day, it will be just me and God face to face across that divine table and whilst shameful for my own shortcomings and failings I want to be able to raise my face and say that in the battle for life I was not afraid to speak out.

What did you do around abortion clinic, what was the activism comprised of, that later "provoked" the PSPO?

For around 20 years I have been going outside abortion centres and offering help to women or couples who are considering abortion. Over a period of a few years I counted a hundred women who changed their mind but I have no idea of the final total and it’s not for me to know - God knows that. 

Photo: ADF UK

I started off praying with a few other people for an hour a week on Saturday morning, then after a few years we started a 40 Days for Life campaign and many more people joined us. The first abortion centre I prayed outside of closed in 2019 so we then went to another abortion centre. We would stand near the entrance in pairs or occasionally as three people. We had no posters and just a handful of leaflets which we would offer those entering the centre with the words ‘Can I give you a leaflet?’ or ‘Can we offer you any help?’

The leaflets would explain more about the help we could offer which might be financial support, accommodation, child care, baby goods, friendship, private medical care etc. We would also offer help to anyone hurting after an abortion too.

These post-abortive people (both women or men) we would point towards Rachel’s Vineyard where they would receive all the help they needed. Many of our volunteers were themselves post-abortive.
While we were standing there we would quietly pray for all the needs of those considering abortion, those hurt by abortion, those who worked in the abortion centre as well as those who lived in the area. Sadly, although we were very peaceful and had many lovely conversations with women at the abortion centre,

some of the locals were very aggressive towards us – they would spit at us, scream and swear at us, steal our property, threaten us and even physically assault us.

One of these assaults was caught on camera and we showed it to the police. They seemed very reluctant to do anything about it. When we asked why they said

‘Well if you don’t want to be assaulted, you don’t have to come out of your house do you!’

I think they thought rather than deal with the real trouble makers and those breaking the law, it would be easier just to get us moved away as we were peaceful and not aggressive. It was in this atmosphere that a PSPO (buffer zone) was introduced.

PSPO: England, Wales 

The UK Parliament adopted “buffer zone” legislation in 2023, expected to come into force throughout all of England and Wales soon. Existing zones under local laws already have resulted in numerous human rights violations including police interrogations, arrests, fines and criminal proceedings for silent prayer on the public street near abortion facilities, essentially resulting in “thought-crime” prosecutions.

What happened after this, how did you react?

I internally reasoned ‘Ok buffer zones ban protesting but I’ve never protested outside abortion centres, I just pray and offer help. Surely my prayers can’t be censored?’ So I went to pray silently outside the closed abortion centre. No posters, leaflets, Bible, or rosary beads, just me, standing silently by myself not making a sound. The police quickly arrived and asked if I was protesting. I said I wasn’t.

They asked if I was praying, I said I might be in my head but not out loud. I was promptly arrested and searched thoroughly on the street. I was taken to the police station and put in a police cell. 

While at the police station I was shown photographs of myself taken by locals, in them I was standing outside the abortion centre. I was asked if I was praying in the photographs. Being mindful to be honest I replied that I couldn’t be sure. I explained that sometimes I’d been distracted and thought about my sandwiches in my car and

since I didn’t know exactly when the photo was taken I couldn’t be sure if I was praying in it or thinking about my sandwiches.

Anyway, I was questioned under caution about what was going on in my head, what I’d been praying for (which was a great opportunity to witness to the police). I was finally released on bail. I was charged with ‘engaging in an act intimidating service users’. (I remind you there were no service users – the abortion centre was closed). I went to court and was acquitted within minutes. 

Photo:ADF UK

I now reasoned I was allowed to silently pray on the street so a couple of weeks later I went back to exactly the same spot and did exactly same thing ie I silently prayed near the abortion centre. This time 6 police officers arrived and told me my prayers were an offence. I stated that I didn’t think prayer was offensive but I was told even more emphatically that they were an offence. I was arrested again and taken away in a van to a police cell. I was released on bail. After an investigation lasting 6 months I was finally told they were dropping the case.

I continue go outside the abortion centre every week and the police continue to come out giving me various tickets and telling me I’ll be issued with a fixed penalty notice.

What gave you strength through this ordeal?

I have been blessed to receive God’s peace throughout this situation.

While there have been many challenges, I know I am where God wants me to be and that is enough.

I am very grateful for all those who have prayed for me and I am sure that this has contributed to the tremendous peace I have felt even when being arrested.

What would you say to those who suggest Christians should pray about these topics in the churches or at home, but going on the street is provocation?

I wholeheartedly agree that Christians should pray in their homes and in their churches but we need to pray on the streets too – it is not an either/or situation. Pope St John Paul II said that ‘Like the Apostles of old we need to go back out onto the streets and there proclaim the Gospel of Life!’ When Jesus was being crucified His Mother Mary didn’t stay at home and think about Her Son, She publicly witnessed for the love She had. I believe She is a great role model for us. Even in situations where the woman doesn’t change her mind about abortion it is so important that

we publicly witness to the value these little lives have and encourage women to see the incredible dignity of motherhood (and men of the responsibility of fatherhood).

When tragedies such as the collapse of the twin towers happen or even smaller scale events like a fatal car crash or a mountaineering accident, you will often see flowers laid at the scene or people stopping to say a prayer there. This is a sign of respect to the life/lives lost and the tragedy which has occurred. Our prayers at abortion centres are a way of respecting the dead as well as asking for help for the living.

When outside abortion centres we are there not only to pray but to offer help and alternatives as explained. This cannot be done in the same way from a distance.

Many women, when pregnant, will feel their only option is abortion. Some are even coerced or forced into it. They may not be really thinking about what abortion is or how it will affect them or their child but simply that they want to be ‘un-pregnant’. We are there to offer help right up to the last minute that they may not even think exists and so would not begin to look for it. I remember one Muslim couple we helped saying to me ‘I find it hard to believe that help like this exists – where people help those of another religion for free’. 

Do you think there is an Orwellian system in place now designed to silence Christians in the UK?

I think Christians are in serious danger of losing their voice if they don’t use it (use it or lose it!). This is not really surprising as we are drawing attention to a murky underbelly of society, one that happens behind closed doors, that we have euphemisms to describe because the truth is just too unpalatable. 

March for Life, London, 2021       Photo: Shutterstock/Koca Vehbi

We all look back on slavery from a comfortable distance and agree what a terrible and unjust thing it was to treat another human being as our possession but those trying to draw attention at the time were ignored, scoffed at or worse because it made people feel uncomfortable. The truth has a habit of doing that but we should feel decidedly uncomfortable that millions of children are intentionally killed each year, sanctioned by our governments and deceptively sold to women as healthcare – it is a national and international disgrace.

We can’t wait for it to be comfortable to speak the truth – we have to proclaim it in season and out of season.

We must ensure that our message also speaks of love and of mercy though so we don’t become like the Pharisees who heap up burdens on men’s shoulders without lifting a finger to help them.

Some MPs in Germany and also in Scotland plan to copy the PSPO and implement it in their country. What is your opinion about that?

Our nation in England has become a laughing stock for the way it has tried to criminalise silent prayer and liberalise abortion further. This is a public shame. We need a nation bold enough to stand up for all its citizens both born and pre-born. We need a nation that refuses to discriminate against those who are smaller, weaker or unable to speak for themselves. We need a nation that cares about its women and respects their dignity, helping to restore those who have been battered by the world and lost the sense of their own worth. We need a nation that supports men in their God-given role as protector and defender of life.

I pray that we see MPs strong enough and courageous enough to help this become a reality.

German censorship-zone Bill

A new draft bill, announced the end of January by Germany’s Federal Family Minister Lisa Paus (Green Party), would introduce fines of up to 5,000€ ($5,500) for peaceful expression on public streets near abortion-related facilities. The bill would seek to create nationwide censorship zones around the facilities, criminalising messages that could be subjectively understood as “disturbing” or “confusing,” with no legal clarity as to how those terms are to be interpreted. Harassment is already fully illegal, independent of the proposed new law, which would target peaceful expression. The Federal Cabinet approved the bill last week. It will now move through the Bundesrat (Federal Council), which can introduce amendments, followed by the legislative process, including three readings in the Bundestag (Parliament).  According to ADF International, the new bill goes far beyond criminalising already illegal harassment to propose blanket bans on peaceful and fully legal activities such as prayer or offers of help.  (ADF International)

Scottish censorship-zone bill

The Scottish Parliament has begun hearing evidence on a Bill at the end of February which, if it becomes law, will introduce the world's most extreme buffer zone law in Scotland. The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill was introduced by Scottish Green Party MSP, Gillian Mackay, in October last year. A number of abortion activists and women who had previously had abortions told their stories to the parliamentary committee. One witness said that prayer outside locations where abortions are performed is "unacceptable" and that banning it through this legislation would be "extremely beneficial" for the whole of society. The Explanatory Notes accompanying the Bill make clear that the provisions of the Bill apply to "residential buildings" within the buffer zone. This means that it may be illegal to display a pro-life sign from within a church or within a person's own home if it is visible within the buffer zone. Anyone who commits an offence can be fined up to £10,000 on a summary conviction, or an unlimited fine on indictment. Furthermore, the Bill gives the Scottish Government the power to extend any buffer zone beyond 200m if they judge that the existing zone "does not adequately protect" women seeking an abortion. There is no limit on the size of the buffer zone that can be created under this power. (Right to Life UK)

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