Abortion centres are the new sacred space
A woman has been arrested for praying silently outside a clinic
Britain is now a country with designated zones where being suspected of thinking proscribed thoughts will attract the attention of police, even if you’re not acting on those thoughts in any way.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, a 45-year-old woman from Malvern, has been arrested in Birmingham on suspicion of ‘praying silently’ inside an exclusion zone adjacent to an abortion centre. These zones were voted into effect in October this year, amid celebration of their value in protecting women seeking an abortion from harassment at an emotionally difficult moment.
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It’s customary in these situations to decry the breach of liberal norms involved in arresting someone not for doing something wrong but merely thinking. But if, as I’ve suggested elsewhere, all politics is now post-liberal, that means it’s once again explicitly the case that state power is aligned with a widely-shared moral order.
This is a drum I’ve been banging for a little while, for contra the fond imaginings of some liberals we never really stopped ordering power to sacred values. After all, it’s not really possible to have a functioning polity otherwise. This, I argued shortly before the pandemic, is why hate crime laws appeared a scant few years after the abolition of blasphemy laws: they are blasphemy laws. We’ve just updated what we considered blasphemous.
It’s not so very long ago that everyone would have understood instinctively that offensive behaviour such as public lewdness is much more offensive if it happens in a physical space treated as sacred. Peeing in public is gross; peeing on a church altar is offensive on a whole other level. You’d think, anyway. But peeing on an altar is no longer blasphemous enough to get you sent down in Europe: the European court recently overturned the prison sentence of a French activist who simulated aborting Jesus, naked, while urinating on a church altar.
By contrast, Vaughan-Spruce’s arrest makes it clear that the zone surrounding an abortion centre is treated as sacred in a way that’s evidently no longer meaningfully the case (at least as far as the European court is concerned) of a church. She is an activist and director of March for Life UK, for one. But this in no way diminishes the growing sense that the activity being protected is also increasingly treated as sacred.
And this makes sense, for both are ordered by the same fundamental belief: that we’re all radically autonomous, atomised individuals, and the job of power is to protect us from other autonomous, atomised individuals who may try to hurt us. In that context the radical dependency of an unborn baby is less something sacred to be preserved than a threat to something sacred: the mother’s freedom. For in or out of the womb, a baby’s coming into existence necessarily happens at the cost of some freedom for that baby’s mother.
We have sacralised autonomy to such an extent that laws uphold women’s right to it, even at the cost of another radically dependent life. And the issue is growing ever more moralised, as evidenced by the fact that even thinking disapproving thoughts about this radical commitment to individual autonomy is now treated as blasphemous, in zones where its most extreme sacrifices are made.
Wherever you stand on the practical issues surrounding abortion, this is indisputably a profound statement on the relative values we accord to freedom, care and dependency — one with profound ramifications for how we see the weak and helpless in any context. That the practice is taking on sacramental colouring, for a religion of atomisation, should give us all pause.
This story was not covered by the BBC or any other MSM organization despite being a very important story. Funny that
You may protest death penalty as you wish, so all freedom is not lost, at least once you are born.
Why would a person or a small group of people standing silently be intimidating? There is no threat of violence.
What is meant by intimidation in this context is that the woman attending for an abortion might address her thoughts as to whether what she is about to do is the right course of action. Is it really wrong that a woman taking such a momentous, irreversable decision that she may come to bitterly regret should be encouraged to reconsider?
If a woman is considering an abortion, it seems to me that she should have to go through a process of discussing the different options and support available before she makes the final decision. We have a system that is designed to quickly women push down the route of abortion, and actively sets up barriers to the delivery of information about such things as adoption, that would allow them to make an informed choice.
I agree with your sentiment and anyone considering an abortion should go through that process carefully prior to the procedure. Harrassing in the street because you disagree with what they are doing is not ‘providing support’ and an inappropriate moment to apply pressure on emotionally vulnerable people who I am certain just want to be left alone.
Harassing people who just want to go to their place of work, applying pressure on vulnerable people who have weighed the arguments and decided that they do not want to go on strike.
There is no end to the uses for this legislation depending upon you political leaning
Indeed harassing people who just want to teach philosophy at Sussex University seems to have been regarded as fine as the philosopher in question didn’t have the “right” views in spite of the fact that she had thought about them carefully and it was an inappropriate moment to apply pressure on her. While I am reluctant to describe Kathleen Stock as a vulnerable person the constant harassment and lack of official action was enough to make her relinquish a tenured position at the University. As usual a display of police bias in response to protesters.
Anyone who is on their own against the mob is vulnerable.
KS had all the right views except in one area.
Shouting, abuse, physical intimidation and obstruction are harrassment; not a woman standing silently.
The stupidity of the situation is that nobody attending for an abortion would have paid any attention to the woman or known why she was there, if the three police officers that turned up had just left her alone instead of shamefully flexing their authoritarian muscle.
Shouting, abuse, physical intimidation and obstruction are harrassment; not a woman standing silently.
That’s totally subjective. The circumstances are very sensitive, which is the precise reason for the exclusion zones.
If i want to cross a picket line the circumstances are very sensitive
Harassment is arguable. But a zone in which people aren’t permitted to THINK particular things? This is a bridge too far for me.
Surely this law doesn’t ban people from thinking things. In response to harassment and intimidation a law needed to be passed against people demonstrating outside abortion clinics – I guess they didn’t think it would be necessary to list all the types of demonstrating that might be allowed or disallowed. People wishing to demonstrate or pray can go one street over and demonstrate/pray there, or anywhere else in the 99.9% of the city that’s away from an abortion clinic.
I think Mary is drawing too long a bow: “the zone surrounding an abortion centre is treated as sacred in a way”. No, it isn’t being treated as sacred, just that it should be safe for a person to go quietly about their legal business. It’s not about the space, it’s about the person.
Do you also think that standing in a public place on the pavement should be legal regardless of what you are thinking?
Prayer is not harrassment.
Blokes should probably keep out of this argument.
While I realise it does get tricky when a man in a committed relationship would rather proceed with a pregnancy and fatherhood, it’s not his body, and future that will be necessarily be affected for the next 20 years.
By realistic Dad and husband.
And that’s exactly what they want you to do Philip. “If you haven’t got a uterus, then it’s none if your business” (or words to that effect) Strangely there isn’t another area of public policy where this would be given any credence.
Imagine the uproar if women were told there was a subject they couldn’t comment on.
I don’t normally comment on the abortion issue because of the controversy, however the balance is now well tilted in favour of the abortion industry & it is an industry.
Because of the practicalities lots of health trusts fund women to actually have their abortions at private clinics.
Technically they are supposed to have counselling. So this counselling is done by someone in the employment of the clinic that’s about to be paid a nice fee for performing the procedure.
What’s the chances of a woman who’s unsure, being told it’s ok to wait a few days until she’s more sure.
They may not be big in number, but they’re there. Or the woman in a relationship who’s being coerced into getting an abortion. Where’s the careful listening to her needs?
If people are now being arrested for praying a private prayer we’re in trouble.
Though I expect that will be one of those cases where a court will rule the police have overstepped the mark.
Apart from the fact that he will be legally obligated to pay for the child
It makes sense for the father to be obligated to support the child, especially since he engaged in conduct that resulted in the pregnancy and the subsequent birth. Whether he actually thought about it beforehand, he engaged in the act and needs to accept the consequences.
But if the foregoing makes sense for the gander, does it not also apply to the goose? At least in the absence of rape, the woman also chose to engage in the conduct that resulted in pregnancy.
I suppose one could distinguish the two situations by noting that it is the woman who must carry the child for nine months, and who bears the not inconsiderable risks of pregnancy. But a woman who doesn’t think about that consequence is like a man who does not think about the possibility of having to provide financial support.
Perhaps the solution is to discourage pre-marital sex altogether, since people often don’t seem to engage thoughtfully in such conduct.
I expect anyone silently praying outside Auschwitz concentration camp when it was in operation would have risked arrest but I am not sure it was regarded as a sacred place even by the German National Socialist party. It is more a matter of enforcing the “popular “ ideology and disallowing dissent in a public place. Of course the ideologue doesn’t want anyone to be encouraged to think what is being done is wrong. I suspect that if people had turned up to silently pray outside the Tavistock Clinic they might have risked arrest. Stop Oil fanatics in contrast are allowed to disrupt because it is merely a more extreme version of the official ideology that we should use less oil because of climate change alarmism.
In modern law it seems the fetus is now classed as a parasite that one may elect to have destroyed as a right.
Most of us would rather the police arrest the Just Stop Oil protestors but if they are going to be policing thought crimes can we redirect their efforts against pro-EU Remainers.
Abortion is wrong
Just stop oil is wrong
Brexit was wrong
The EU vehemently disagrees with you on abortion. MEPs recently voted for the right to abortion to be recognised in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. No doubt, in due course this will happen.
The freedom of our democratically elected government to determine important policy such as that in relation to abortion, and not have it put beyond change by some here today gone minister slinking off to the Brussels to sign Britain up to an effectively irrevocable legal obligation, is why Brexit was entirely right.
That’s an opinion rather than a fact (although I realise that some people think their opinions are facts!)
You clearly think your opinion is a fact.
How could Brexit be “wrong”?
Do you have the right to surrender your grandchildren’s rights?
Well, don’t be sad, two out of three ain’t bad.
Abortion is a cornerstone of neoliberal global corporate hegemony. That’s why it’s sacrosanct.
I agree. Mary puts it nicely – protecting the “sacred” (subjective) right of complete autonomy (including the intrusion of a nascent human being in the only place from which they can be born).
You may have read (though not widely covered) that US dept of Justice has arrested several religious people for activities outside of abortion clinics, while they have virtually ignored a rash of vandals desecrating, pissing on, setting fire to and bombing several Churches (since the Dobbs decision).
So the current US administration has clearly staked out what is sacred space and what is not.
It is a main tool in Liberal demographic re-adjustment policy.
”52 years of abortion in the UK: 9,446,068 lives lost since 1967 — one unborn baby every 3 minutes”
so combined with immigration you are able to direct demographics, remember, diversity is our strength.
Since the sexual revolution of the 60s there has been a cataclismic disconnect between sex, commitment , marriage and creation of life. Having a child has in many parts become an inconvienience to an individuals career path rather than, dare I say in this individualistic narsasistic and relativistic world, a celebration of love between a man and a woman. Human rights are protected in more depth than ever before in our history – unless you are a baby forming in the womb in which case as a “prenatal human being” – you are a mere infection or inconvenience to be removed.
A useful precedent. Can we start by rounding up all those French supporters who might have been silently praying for Harry Kane to miss that penalty…
Do the French still pray?
As a practical matter how is it possible to suspect someone might be praying? Is the officer some sort of mind-reader, not to mention a theologian? I’m any case why didn’t he suggest a nearby site beyond the exclusion zone where she might continue her silent prayer (if indeed that’s what she was doing)? Or is it the case that no one is allowed to simply stand in an exclusion zone, at the risk of being accosted by multiple police officers, as the video reveals?
In any case if the exclusion zone is concerned with protecting the young women, you’d think more prayer would be welcome, right?
Anyway what of the drumbeat of claims that Christianity dying? If it’s the case, that it’s feeble and dying, then surely there’s no need to deploy resources to criminalize it and enforce the criminalization.
The reality is that Christians are increasingly persecuted for our beliefs.
Meanwhile, “potential prayer” is now “harmful.” Next all prayer will be called racist, sexist and transphobic, and leading to the spread of the “deadly” Wuhan flu.
As you suggest, this has nothing to do with ‘thought or prayer’ and everything to do with proximity. The staff, the patients, even the local residents need protection from the incessent activists.
Protection from silent prayer?
Don’t abortion clinics boast that they provide counselling to potential clients, rather than just whisk out the foetus for anyone who asks? In other words, they invite women to think carefully about the full ramifications of abortion before proceeding. Mrs Vaughan Spruce is in effect doing the same – prompting women to think carefully about their decision.
Ludicrous. I’m an atheist and pro-choice on abortion, but what’s wrong with someone silently praying and not bothering anyone? Sake.
I’m continually irritated by the over-simplification of the issue. I had no idea that in the U.K. a foetus with Downs Syndrome can be aborted up until birth! A huge difference between first trimester and third trimester abortion including the trauma of the mother. But even whisper your doubts in some circles and no-one replies! Another toxic issue to avoid!!
Just thank you Mary Harrington.
Ms. Harrington has reached another level – We are truly witnessing greatness for however long her prime as a withering social commentator lasts…
The paradox of the liberal state: it’s secular but can’t function without religion. Hence climate change, ‘George Floyd was murdered’, ‘women have penises’ and the rest.
I think social constructivism is the perfect vehicle for double think. Meghan Markle first made me aware of the extent of the hypocrisy of both the woke and feminists. Within a few weeks, she wrote an article in the New York Times in which she expressed her expectation the world should mourn her miscarriage with her, and announced her horror at the overturning of Wade vs Roe claiming it was tantamount to destroying a woman’s right to choose. She advocates for both the mourning and the heartless destruction of the same physical object. The only thing that differs is how the object is represented. The social construction associated with the physical reality. To social constructivists all that matters is the social construction, everything else is irrelevant, but because a social construction contains nothing indestructible, it is threatened by words (or even prayers) hence the need to silence detractors. Those who are driven by the desire for power want to control thought. Those to whom truth matters (a small minority I suspect) are a constant threat to the power hungry propagandists.
This is the end time. Revelations predicted all this. The mark of the beast is available at veterinarian. Soon cash will disappear and the state will know everything and can make it impossible to by anything without permission. No black market. It’s starve or be condemned to he’ll by God. Revelations predicted the collapse of Christianity and rise of Satan. Soon God will send plague solar flars and other punishment. Hope for the rapture and pity all left behind.
I’m starting to hope so. Let it decay a little more and the society will deserve what it gets.
The heading states there were 31 comments. Only 18 appear. Have the rest been detained pending further enquiries?
It was suspected they were praying as they posted.
It was only a matter of time before self morphed into Self. The apotheosis of the individual is, ultimately, the sin of pride, perhaps the original sin. Which has turned morality upside down. The new moralists are worse than Pharisees, who built what they saw as moral hedges around the law to prevent even the possibility of a transgression. To protect the god/goddess of Self from any restraint whatsoever, the new moralists have built hedges that constrain not just speech and action, but even conscience and thought. This tyranny has got to be stopped in its tracks, and soon, or we will live in a permanent Gulag of the soul. Screwtape is smiling.
Not sure I understand the connection with global corporate hegemony. Please enlighten me. I have viewed the abortion people as pure hypocrites, as the very people who weep over miscarriages will often vociferously defend the woman’s so-called right to abortion. It’s monstrous, but how is it corporate?
How does anyone know she was praying of it was all silent? Did she have a rosary or what?
No, she was standing some distance from the abortion clinic. Someone rang the police who questioned her about what she was thinking. Her response that this was a mixture of everyday concerns such as her lunch and may have included silent prayer. She was then arrested.
Was it Paul Scott in the ‘Raj Quartet’ where the British woman who had been raped by the Indian is discussed and the line (paraphrased) is said by another ‘I would rip the filth out of my body and throw it to the pi dogs’ has always stuck with me when the issue of abortion comes up. (It could have been Forester and Passage to India – but I think Scott, been a long time since reading)
There was an article in Unherd a couple of weeks ago about technology enabling the gestation of the foetus in Matrix style pods – the gist of the article being to condemn the concept of remote gestation because of its effect on the eventual child.
However, in such a scenario, where the woman’s body, and therefore her choice, is no longer relevant to the survival of the foetus – does abortion cease to be a valid, legal option?
And so pod gestation might actually be a means of establishing foetal ‘rights’.
Something weird about these comments. It says that there are 38 comments but I only count 22. Also there are no comments by women as far as I can tell from the names.
Now it says 48 but there are only 31. I wonder why you got downvotes?
The mere fact of standing silently in a person’s presence can be a mode of intimidation; if someone stood outside my house or workplace silently praying every day I would find it intimidating and offensive. It is a passive-aggressive mode of insult, clearly asserting that the object of prayer is a depraved human being as opposed to those who enter the clinic.
I have been stalked by a woman who did nothing more than appear wherever I went and found it extremely distressing. The refusal to acknowledge this woman’s behaviour as insulting to patients and workers at the clinic is odd : after all, presumably her prayers would be equally efficacious performed at home or in a church. It’s obviously aimed at an audience at least as much as at God; a covert assertion of her moral superiority to those who approach the clinic.
I don’t know where all the comments are going.
I think it’s possible that this lady has form on this issue and is known to staff and patients at the clinic. I also wouldn’t mind betting that this is just a start of a new strategy by the anti abortion organizations. We shall see more of this.
I agree, following the activism of our US cousins.
As for the notion that this woman’s actions (even though passive) might serve to give another woman “pause for thought” before going ahead with their decision, that’s condescension of the highest order. Maybe that’ll give those making such a suggestion pause for thought… but i doubt it.
What’s wrong with giving them pause for thought? Are you afraid someone might reconsider? Would that be so horrible? What’s wrong with babies? Europe (and America) need a lot more of them.
You’re probably right. If she’s hoping to use prayer to guide others I don’t see that she necessarily has to be onsite.
And? She still free to pray silently any place she wants on a public street.
I don’t know what to think about this. According to the report in Spiked the woman was silent. When the policeman asked her if she was praying she said she might have been. I don’t know how the law is written. If there was a crowd of people silently praying then it would clearly have been intimidating.
Personally I think she was trying to intimidate women entering the clinic. If she wanted to pray for the unborn or the women she could do that anywhere and keep outside the exclusion zone. I think whether or not she was praying is irrelevant and would be impossible to prove anyway. It might have been better for the policeman to simply ask her to move along.
In what way is some standing silently intimidating?
What you really mean is that it may cause the woman attending for an abortion to think again about what she is about to do and experience feelings of guilt about extinguishing a potential life and their potential child.
To silently and respectfully stand and possibly induce people about to take momentous decisions to think again about whether they are taking the right course of action is not intimidation.
No, it is rank condescension, though, in an “i know better than you” fashion.
I presume that you are not in favour of arresting the condescending though.
Should ‘condescension’ be against the law? Do we have enough prisons?
I don’t know Marcus. I’m a man and I’ve never attended an abortion clinic and I don’t know anyone who has. Possibly there are women who treat it like going to the hairdressers, I don’t know. Equally there may be other women and girls who are in a vulnerable state of mind, unsure of themselves and frightened. They may not want anyone, friends, family, or husbands, to know they are going to an abortion clinic. I do think that some of them will be intimidated by a woman standing in silence outside the clinic. It’s clear that they disapprove. They are not unbiased. Inside the clinic they will get unbiased advice from sympathetic professionals. They are not trying to persuade the girl or woman one way or the other. We’ve heard that from Anne Furedi on Spiked.
Interesting that it’s men who think that the silent, standing woman is not intimidating.
I should say I think it’s completely stupid to have a law that bans praying in this way. The anti abortion groups must think it’s their lucky day. Look forward to a whole load of women arrested for ‘praying’ outside abortion clinics. It’s not a good look for the powers that be. It’s a sensitive subject and this hasn’t been handled sensitively.
“Inside the clinic they will get unbiased advice from sympathetic professionals.” Will the advice be unbiased? I didn’t know that.
The lady can think and pray all she likes at home, if she does it outside an abortion clinic it’s clearly motivated to intimidate visiting patients.
The thoughts inside you head are nobody’s business but your own. The law should be interested in actions. If the woman wasn’t obviously protesting then the law shouldn’t act.
It is an ‘action’. Her mere presence in the buffer zone is a protest. If this was allowed then before long there would be two, then a dozen people ‘praying’ quietly.
And when the buffer zone of acceptable thought is expanded, like trans ideology across the country, where people in work are now forced to think correct thoughts at risk of losing their jobs?
I agree with you. The praying part is irrelevant. Her presence alone was intended to dissuade women from attending the clinic but the policeman should have just asked her to move and not arrest her praying in a no praying zone. If she were to return then arrest her.
But why is one form of protest peaceful and another not? Why do we tolerate an altar being desecrated or trans protesters or environmental activists? Why are some actions so special that not even a peaceful protest is tolerated?
I would go further. Even if she was obviously protesting provided she was doing so silently and not impeding anyone’s progress like stop oil or similar protesters she should not have been either removed or arrested.
Why is it the police seem unwilling to arrest trans rights or or stop oil protesters who are being either verbally intimidating or impeding others going about their business but are happy to arrest a silent protester who is not being a nuisance outside an abortion clinic? The answer is that the police authorities approve of the disruptive and intimidating protesters but not of the implicit message of the silent protester. Official bias in action.
The whole business of “the right to protest” is riddled with hypocrisy.
You have just proved Mary’s point perfectly.
At the time of her arrest, the clinic was closed. She couldn’t have ‘intimidated’ anyone.
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