Second bystander ensnared by English ban on prayer outside abortion clinics

Second bystander ensnared by English ban on prayer outside abortion clinics

Adam Smith-Connor was fined for “praying for [his] son, who is deceased” near an abortion facility in Bournemouth, England. / ADF UK

Denver, Colo., Jan 22, 2023 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Amid continuing controversy over strict limits on behavior outside abortion clinics in some English cities, a man faces a fine for praying silently outside one clinic in memory of his dead son.

“I would never have imagined being in a position to risk a criminal record for praying silently,” Adam Smith-Connor said, according to the legal group supporting him, Alliance Defending Freedom UK.

Smith-Connor had approached a British Pregnancy Advisory Service abortion facility in Bournemouth, in the southwest English county of Dorset. He intended to pray for his unborn son, who had died in an abortion he helped procure at a similar facility more than two decades ago.

Smith-Connor stood silently with his back to the clinic to respect the privacy of staff and visitors, according to Alliance Defending Freedom UK. Community safety officers inquired about what he was doing, and Smith-Connor replied: “Praying for my son, who is deceased.”

His Nov. 24, 2022, encounter with the officers was recorded on his phone.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” one officer replied. “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 …”

“I’m just standing praying,” Smith-Connor said.

“I do understand that. But the (protection order) is in place for a reason and we have to follow through on those regulations,” the officer replied.

A protection order is intended to stop anti-social behavior. The protection order for the abortion clinic has been in force since Oct. 13, 2022, and will remain in place for three years.

As part of the order, the Council of Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole has drawn red lines around an abortion provider and designated the area a “safe zone.” Anyone caught blessing themselves with the sign of the cross, reciting Scripture, or sprinkling holy water behind these red lines can be fined £100 (about $113) or risk a court conviction. The order bars engaging in an act or an attempted act of approval or disapproval of abortion services.

Smith-Connor faces a fine based on his statement that he was praying for his deceased son. A legal team with the support of Alliance Defending Freedom UK is challenging the fine.

Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom UK, objected to the action against Smith-Connor.

“Nobody should be criminalized for what they believe — especially not when they express that belief silently, in the privacy of their own minds,” Igunnubole said.

The attorney compared the case to that of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who was arrested in Birmingham Dec. 6, 2022, for standing still and praying silently outside an abortion facility, which was closed at the time. Vaughan-Spruce, 45, faces four counts of violating that city’s protection order.

Like her, Igunnubole said, O’Connor-Smith “could now face prosecution for holding thoughts, and lifting those thoughts to God in prayer, within a censorship zone. The rapid proliferation of orders criminalizing 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.”

Grieving an aborted son

Smith-Connor said he stood outside the clinic due to his own personal experience with abortion.

“Twenty-two 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,” he said. “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.”

He said he “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.”

“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 realize how harmful abortion is to women and families and that every single human life is valuable — no matter how small,” he said. “Most of all, I’m moved to pray because of what happened to my son, Jacob.”

Legislators in the U.K. Parliament have introduced a proposal to create similar zones near abortion clinics across England and Wales.

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