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Scottish “buffer zones” bill launched amidst “thoughtcrime” prosecutions in England

  • Bill launched by Gillian McKay MSP would criminalise “influence” on public space near abortion facilities
  • Free speech campaigners warn vague wording could lead to English-style “thoughtcrime” prosecutions in Scotland
  • ADF UK supports legal defense of several individuals facing prosecution for silent prayer 

The following statement may be attributed to Lois McLatchie Miller, Senior Legal Communications Officer and Spokesperson for ADF UK in Scotland:

“Gillian Mackay MSP has lodged her bill to implement censorial “buffer zones” around abortion facilities across Scotland.

We all stand firmly against harassment, and anyone who commits harassment against a woman is already subject to prosecution. However, Mackay’s Bill goes much, much further, making it a crime to engage in “influencing” on public streets anywhere “visible or audible” from an area 200m around the abortion facility – an area thus potentially expanding many hundreds of meters around public space.

The use of such broad and sweeping terminology leaves Scottish people open to prosecution merely for engaging in a consensual conversation, offering charitable help services to women who’d like to consider other options, or even privately praying about abortion and those impacted by it.

We know from where “buffer zones” exist in England, that vaguely-worded and broad prohibitions have been used to drag people through court for praying silently in their own minds – one of the first examples of a “thoughtcrime” being prosecuted in court. Surely we can all agree that this is an Orwellian overreach that should be resisted, rather than copied and pasted into our national laws.

I urge Scotland not to make the same mistakes as the English. Don’t censor our streets from charitable help, from conversations, or from simple prayer.”

“Thoughtcrimes” resulting from English “buffer zones”

The Scottish Bill has been launched only weeks after West Midlands police ended a six-month investigation in Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, a charitable volunteer from Birmingham, who was arrested twice for praying silently in her own mind in an abortion facility “buffer zone”. A viral video showed her being arrested for her silent prayers within the censorial zone for the first time last Winter:


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In the same area, a Catholic priest was also charged for praying silently in the buffer zone while holding a sign reading “praying for free speech”. Father Sean Gough was further charged for having a small bumper sticker on his car parked in the zone, which had been affixed to the car almost a year prior, reading “unborn lives matter”.

With support from ADF UK, both Isabel Vaughan-Spruce and Father Sean Gough were completely acquitted following their trial at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court for committing prayerful “thoughtcrimes”.

Meanwhile, a father and military veteran awaits trial in November in relation to his own silent prayer near an abortion facility in Bournemouth. Adam Smith-Connor was charged and prosecuted for praying silently about his own experience of an abortion which he had paid for in the past, as well as for the difficult decisions facing men and women at the clinic that day. ADF UK are also supporting Smith-Connor’s legal defense.

Last month, the Home Secretary clarified that “silent prayer, within itself, is not unlawful” in a public letter to police forces across the country. The letter further reminded officers that “holding lawful opinions, even if those opinions may offend others, is not a criminal offence.”

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