English Town Outlaws Sign of the Cross and Praying in Public in Abortion ‘Safe Zone’

Abortion activists succeed in removing the pro-life witness from the U.K. coastal town of Bournemouth.

L to R: Pro-lifers participate in 40 Days for Life; Livia Tossici-Bolt holds an icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
L to R: Pro-lifers participate in 40 Days for Life; Livia Tossici-Bolt holds an icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (photo: Courtesy of 40 Days for Life)

In a town on the south coast of England, in 2022, making the Sign of the Cross and praying in a certain public area is now illegal.

The council authority of Bournemouth has designated an area around a local abortion facility a “safe zone.” Within that “zone,” anyone found praying, making the Sign of the Cross, reciting Scripture or sprinkling holy water will be fined £100 (about $113).

The Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) — the legal means by which the “zone” is created — came into force on Oct. 13. It shall remain in place for three years, during which it forbids a number of behaviors from Monday to Friday between 7am and

7pm, namely, “vigils where members audibly pray, recite Scripture, genuflect, sprinkle holy water on the ground or cross themselves if they perceive a service-user is passing by.”

Further prohibited behaviors include: “prayer or counseling,” but also the intimidation and harassment of abortion facility staff, as well as the display of “text or images relating directly or indirectly to the termination of pregnancy and or playing or using amplified music, voice or audio recordings.”

In a press release, published on Oct. 11, the Bournemouth council declared that the aim of the PSPO was to stop anti-social behavior. It said the decision to enforce a PSPO was made following a public consultation, during which the council received 2,241 responses. Seventy-five percent of respondents supported the principle of a PSPO being implemented, while 24% did not support it, the press release stated.

This latest development comes at a time when there are moves by pro-abortion members of Parliament to make statutory “buffer zones” around all abortion facilities throughout the United Kingdom.

On Oct. 18, an amendment to the government's Public Order Bill, whereby harassing, obstructing or interfering with any woman attending an abortion facility would become a criminal offense, was approved by MPs by 297 votes to 110. However, the bill still has several parliamentary stages to clear before becoming law, including scrutiny in the House of Lords.

“Women have a right to hear about options available to them,” said Lois McLatchie, communications officer for ADF International, a faith-based legal advocacy organization that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all people.

Speaking to the Register, McLatchie said that the move to criminalize basic freedoms is never acceptable. “Everyone has the right to think, pray and express themselves in a free and democratic society. Authorities cannot decide to ban speech, let alone thought, with which they simply disagree.”

In relation to the new Bournemouth “zone,” she explained that authorities should never stop the expression of opinion, prayer, counseling or offers of help to women in need. While condemning harassment against women in any circumstances, she pointed out this is already illegal in the U.K., suggesting that “‘buffer zones’ go far further than banning harassment and impede on important rights and freedoms — not least, the freedom of women facing crisis pregnancies to hear about options open to them and make an informed decision about help available.”

McLatchie said that freedom of thought is protected as “an unconditional, absolute right under Article 9 of the European Court of Human Rights. A restriction on what one may think in the privacy of their minds on certain public streets establishes the first kind of ‘thoughtcrime’ in the United Kingdom.” She added, “Nobody should be criminalized for their thoughts.”

The abortion facility in Bournemouth is operated by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). It carries out approximately 3,000 abortions each year.

The pro-life advocacy group 40 Days for Life has been witnessing outside the Bournemouth facility for five years. Speaking to the Register, Robert Colquhoun, the U.K.-based director of international campaigns for 40 Days for Life, perceives a pattern emerging now in the manner by which recent PSPOs are being used to counter peaceful pro-life witness.

“Every single abortion center that has introduced a PSPO (buffer zone) was deeply mired in scandal,” he said. “It’s a story that the British public need to know in detail: of exactly what is entailed at abortion centers, rather than the media spin.”

In particular, Colquhoun is referring to a June 2022 Care Quality Commission report in regard to the Bournemouth BPAS facility. During a routine inspection, the report found:

  • “The service did not always ensure the correct legal documentation was completed before surgical terminations.
  • “The service did not always provide care and treatment following current national guidance to ensure pregnancy remains were treated with respect.
  • “Staff completed and updated risk assessments for each patient and removed or minimized risks. Staff identified and quickly acted upon patients at risk of deterioration. However, the service did not use a specific early-warning system designed for children under the age of 16.
  • “Systems to safely prescribe, administer and record medicines were not always in line with national regulations and guidance.
  • “The service provided mandatory training in key skills to all staff, but not everyone had completed it.”

“It is time the British public really knew what happens inside abortion centers and politicians stopped fawning over laws to desperately protect the deeply corrupt and flawed abortion lobby,” said Colquhoun. “And in all this time, the cry from politicians in the media is, ‘Arrest the pro-lifers’ for their peaceful and prayerful activity. We just stand, pray and offer help!”

One of those who is offering prayer and help is Livia Tossici-Bolt. She has been witnessing outside the Bournemouth BPAS facility since 2019. She said that the imposition of a PSPO around the abortion facility “marked a sad day for this country.”

Speaking to the Register, Tossici-Bolt said: “The fundamental principles of a free society — truth, justice and expressive rights — have been supplanted by an ideological agenda. Peaceful pro-life vigils have been grossly calumniated by unfounded accusations of intimidation and harassment. No BPAS client has ever called the police on this account; no pro-life volunteer has ever been charged or arrested for this crime punishable by law. This fact has been ignored by the [Bournemouth] council.” Instead, she said that the local council members have listened only to one-sided submissions from pro-abortionists. She also blames “the local media,” who she maintains “have been instrumental in constructing this distorted image.”

As well as denying pregnant women the offer of help, Tossici-Bolt said the denial of public prayer outside an abortion facility is a particularly insidious prohibition. By prohibiting prayer, she explained that this has denied “spiritual help to women, their partners, their families and their babies. Prayer has saved lives; prayer has provided spiritual companionship to the little ones suffering during the abortion procedure, as well as to their mothers.”

“I am extremely saddened [at the introduction of] no-prayer zones outside abortion clinics in Bournemouth,” said the local Catholic bishop, Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, in an Oct. 25 press statement. In that statement, he pointed out that it is a “right to come together with others and peacefully express our views,” before adding, “To remove the right to peaceful prayer will end the lives of many innocent unborn children and take away the opportunity of parents to reconsider actions that they may regret and spiritually burden them for the rest of their days.”