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'The Explicit Targeting of Prayer': Pro-Life Activist Takes Legal Action as City Criminalizes Prayer

Randy Mancini 8 December 6, 2022

A U.K. pro-life volunteer has taken legal action against a city ordinance that creates censorship zones around abortion clinics, making it illegal for pro-life activists to speak, pray, or assist women looking for alternative options.

Livia Tossici-Bolt, a former clinical scientist and leader of 40 Days for Life Bournemouth, will pursue a statutory review of the Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) which was passed in October by the Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole city councils.

PSPOs give police officers authority to address protesting, graphic, verbal, or written conduct, prayer, or counseling that engages in acts of approving or disapproving issues related to abortion services. 

In this case, the PSPO protects a 150-meter area surrounding the British Pregnancy Advisory Group's (BPAS) clinic in Ophir Road, Bournemouth.

PSPOs are usually reserved for tackling anti-social behavior such as drug and alcohol abuse and dangerous dogs, reports Christian Legal Centre. But this ordinance will specifically prohibit "vigils where members audibly pray, recite scripture" around the clinic. 

The nonprofit legal group is representing Tossici-Bolt and says the buffer zone criminalizes any ministry work by the 40 Days for Life Bournemouth.

"There is no evidence whatsoever to show that anyone is being harassed outside abortion clinics. The truth is quite the opposite. It is the abortion supporters who intimidate and harass and do not permit any dissenting viewpoint," Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said in a statement. 

She adds, "Buffer zones are an oppressive part of the current culture which force consent and silence dissent. The saddest thing of all is that we are actually talking about human lives. We stand with 40 Days for Life as they seek justice in this case."

The Christian Legal Centre claims the ordinance was passed following a "questionable" public consultation process.

The group believes the consultation effort specifically targeted the activities of Tossici-Bolt and her volunteers.

Tossici-Bolt filed a complaint through the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) against the authorities last month for breaching her freedom to pray on a public street.

"Everyone must have the freedom to pray quietly in a public place. Everyone must have the freedom to give and to receive information. I, and my group of volunteers, would never dream of doing something that causes intimidation and harassment and I find it extremely concerning that unfounded accusations of such reprehensible behavior have been used for ideological gains to discredit genuine humanitarian endeavors," said Tossici-Bolt in a statement.  

Now, she will challenge the validity of the PSPO with lawyers arguing that the council has exceeded its powers.

She believes the council did not have the power to make the PSPO because officials wrongly sought to prohibit peaceful and lawful behavior.

"The bedrock of our vigils is prayer. This aspect may be irrelevant to a secular society, but we believe we are carrying out the will of God in serving the needs of people in the most desperate situations, with love and compassion. Interestingly, the explicit targeting of prayer is in itself a recognition of its power to transform any situation," she explained. 

She adds, "By imposing this PSPO, the BCP council is preventing women coerced into abortion from being reached and helped, and denying women and couples in difficult circumstances the possibility of receiving independent information and supportive alternatives to abortion."
 

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