In two separate incidents, a priest named Sean Gough and pro-life leader Isabel Vaughan-Spruce were charged in December with violating a Public Spaces Protection Order in the city of Birmingham. An abortion clinic there is protected from protesters who call the area around it a "censorship zone" due to the city law.
Although the criminal charges against Gough and Vaughan-Spruce were dropped for lack of evidence, or more likely due to public outcry, Catholic News Agency reports both pro-life activists demanded a formal court acquittal so prosecutors could not charge them later.
This week, a Magistrates Court found both of them not guilty even though both defendants were located inside the Public Spaces zone.
The two defendants were represented by Alliance Defending Freedom International.
Outside the courtroom, ADF International attorney Jeremiah Igunnubole told reporters the defendants were justly acquitted but he pointed out the British parliament is debating a national law that would create more criminals beyond Birmingham.
A press release, signed by numerous abortion rights groups, demands "national buffer zones" that block the harassment of women entering the abortion clinic. Praying outside the clinics and singing hymns are listed as examples of harassment, according to the abortion groups.
“How did we get to the place,” the ADF attorney asked, “where freedom of thought, which is an absolute right, is investigated and put on trial?”
'Are you praying?'
Just how Orwellian is the Birmingham law?
In a two-minute encounter that was recorded, Vaughan-Spruce was standing across the street from the abortion clinic when police officers approached her and demanded to know if she was protesting, which would violate the law.
“What are you here for today?” a police officer demands to know.
“Physically, I’m just standing here,” Vaughan-Spruce, hands in her pockets, replies.
“Why here of all places?” the officer says. “I know you don’t live nearby.”
Vaughan-Spruce then points out there is an abortion clinic across the street but says “no” when the officer asks if she is protesting.
“Are you praying?” the police officer asks, since that violates the city law.
“I might be praying in my head,” she replies.
Father Gough fought the ordinance more openly: He was holding a sign reading “Praying for Free Speech” when police arrested him Dec. 9.
According to the CNA story, Birmingham police also charged the priest with a crime because of a pro-life bumper sticker on his automobile that was parked inside the zone.
"I stand by my beliefs: unborn lives do matter," Gough said outside the courtroom. "But whatever your views are on abortion, we can all agree that a democratic country cannot be in the business of prosecuting thought crimes.”