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UK man fined for praying outside abortion clinic now faces criminal charges

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

St. Louis, Mo., Aug 4, 2023 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Local authorities in Bournemouth, England, have filed criminal charges against Adam Smith-Connor, an army veteran and father fined in 2022 for praying silently within an abortion facility censorship zone, or “buffer zone.”

The legal group supporting him, Alliance Defending Freedom UK, said Aug. 4 that Smith-Connor is expected in the Bournemouth Magistrates’ Court on Aug. 9, where he will plead not guilty. 

Smith-Connor had approached a British Pregnancy Advisory Service abortion facility in Bournemouth intending 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.”

The Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole (BCP) Council issued a charge against Smith-Connor on May 12 but did not inform him of the charge until July, ADF UK said. 

“In permitting the prosecution of silent prayer, we are sailing into dangerous waters regarding human rights protections in the U.K. Censorship zones are inherently wrong and engender unhelpful legal confusion regarding the right to free thought. Both domestic and international law have long established freedom of thought as an absolute right that must not ever be interfered with by the state,” said Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK.

“In various other circumstances, the police and the courts have made it clear that silent prayer is not a criminal act. And yet, BCP Council has introduced a rights-restricting censorship zone, which they now argue extends to a ban on silent prayer. The zone was created by the council, enforced by the council and now also prosecuted by the council. This is a remarkable consolidation of power, making the council the judge, jury, and executioner.”

“This case has no place in a country with a historical and proud commitment to the rule of law. The Code for Crown Prosecutors requires prosecutors to be even-handed in their approach to every case, and to protect the rights of suspects and defendants — a duty which has been ignored at every stage by the council, which has not only shown itself to be incapable of impartiality but also failed to grasp the gravity of inaugurating thoughtcrime trials in the U.K.,” Igunnubole continued. 

Smith-Connor’s 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 antisocial 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 drew 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 said he stood outside the clinic due to his 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.

This past February, Father Sean Gough and Isabel Vaughan-Spruce were acquitted of all charges against them after they were accused of breaking the law for praying in front of an abortion clinic in Birmingham. 

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