Local authorities have fined a father and military veteran for “praying for [his] son, who is deceased” near an abortion facility on Ophir Road, Bournemouth.
Smith-Connor stood still and silent on the public street for a few minutes before being approached by “community safety accredited officers”. He had his back to the clinic in order to be mindful of the privacy of staff and attendees of the abortion facility. Video footage shows the council officers asking what he was doing. Smith-Connor informed them that he was “praying for my son, who is deceased”.
A censorship zone or “buffer zone” has been enforced since 13 October 2022. The zone was implemented by local authorities through a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) which criminalises engaging in “an act” or even “attempted act” of “approval/disapproval, with respect to issues related to abortion services, by any means. This includes but is not limited to graphic, verbal or written means, prayer or counselling” within the area surrounding an abortion facility. The PSPO further prohibits religious acts, including reading scripture or crossing oneself. See the full PSPO terms here.
Smith-Connor has now been issued a fine on the basis of the PSPO. The Council stated in their email that the fine is based on his statement that he had been “praying for his son, who is deceased”.
ADF UK is supporting Smith-Connor and has engaged a legal team to challenge his fine.
“Nobody should be criminalised for what they believe – especially not when they express that belief silently, in the privacy of their own minds. Just like in the case of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce last month, Adam could now face prosecution for holding thoughts, and lifting those thoughts to God in prayer, within a censorship zone. The rapid proliferation of orders criminalising volunteers such as Adam and Isabel should be a wake up call to all those who value freedom of expression – even freedom of thought – no matter their views on abortion,” said Jeremiah Igunnubole, Legal Counsel for ADF UK, the legal organisation supporting Adam Smith-Connor.
Penalties for Prayer
Upon learning that Smith-Connor was praying for his late son, the council officer responded, “I’m sorry for your loss. But ultimately, I have to go along with the guidelines of the Public Space Protection Order, to say that we are in the belief that therefore you are in breach of clause 4a, which says about prayer, and also acts of disapproval…”. When Smith-Connor interjected, “I’m just standing praying,”, she again responded, “I do understand that. But the PSPO is in place for a reason and we have to follow through on those regulations.”
Reflecting on the penalty, Smith-Connor said:
“22 years ago I drove my ex-girlfriend to a facility and paid for her to have an abortion. It was a pivotal moment in my life. The consequences of my actions that day came back to grieve me years later, when I realized I had lost my son Jacob to an abortion I had paid for. Recently, I stood outside a similar facility and prayed to God for my son Jacob, for other babies who have lost their lives to abortion, for their grieving families, and for abortion clinic staff.”
“I would never have imagined being in a position to risk a criminal record for praying silently. In the past, I assisted with abortions in hospital as part of my army medical training, but now I pray for those who perform abortions because I realise how harmful abortion is to women and families, and that every single human life is valuable – no matter how small. Most of all, I’m moved to pray because of what happened to my son, Jacob,” he continued.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce faces trial for prayer
A video of the arrest of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce after she said she “might” be praying silently in a PSPO went viral last month. The charity volunteer will go before the Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on 2 February after being charged for breaching the local PSPO by silently praying in her mind.
After saying they believed that Vaughan-Spruce was silently praying, police officers searched, arrested, and charged Vaughan-Spruce with “protesting and engaging in an act that is intimidating to service users”. Since the creation of the PSPO censorship zone, Vaughan-Spruce had only prayed nearby the abortion facility while it was closed. It is therefore hard to see how any “service users” could have been present while she prayed silently.