Is praying outside abortion clinics legal?
In England, local authorities have launched legal proceedings against a man for praying silently in the so-called buffer zone of an abortion clinic last November. Meanwhile, in a similar case, a German administrative court has ruled in the opposite direction.
Local authorities in Bournemouth have filed criminal charges against Adam Smith-Connor, who was fined for praying silently within an abortion facility censorship zone or “buffer zone” last November. The first hearing is set to take place at Bournemouth Magistrates’ Court on 9 August, the Premier Christian News portal writes.
Mr Smith-Connor was issued with a fixed penalty notice on 13 December 2022. The notice detailed that he had been “praying for his deceased son” a month earlier near an abortion facility on Orphir Road in Bournemouth, a buffer zone, thereby breaking the rules.
Last year, some local authorities introduced buffer zones near abortion clinics through a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO). These criminalise any act of approval or criticism of abortion services, including prayer or counseling.
Mr Smith-Connor, who now regrets having paid for her ex-girlfriend’s abortion more than 20 years ago, says he was praying outside the clinic for himself and for the son he lost, as well as for the men and women who face difficult decisions about abortion today. He added that he prayed with his back to the facility so as not to give the impression that he was approaching women visiting the centre, or that he wanted to contact them.
Jeremiah Igunnubole, who serves as counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and in support of Smith-Connor’s legal defence, said that
„In permitting the prosecution of silent prayer, we are sailing into dangerous waters regarding human rights protections in the UK. 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.”
Meanwhile, a federal administrative court in Leipzig, Germany, has ruled that restrictions on peaceful prayer meetings near abortion clinics violate the freedom of assembly guaranteed by the constitution, a major victory for the 40 Days for Life movement. The movement is also legally represented by the ADF.
Dr Felix Bollmann, ADF’s European advocacy director, welcomed the decision, stressing that it strengthens fundamental rights. He said the Leipzig court had reiterated that peaceful prayer vigils cannot be banned. He also called on the federal government to reconsider the restrictive measures it has imposed on abortion organisations, according to the íChristianity Daily news portal.
Meanwhile, Christian Today reports that Lisa Paus, the federal minister in charge of family affairs, continues to call for „censorship zones” around abortion clinics across Germany.