Abortion: Army veteran father-of-two charged with silently praying

Abortion: Army veteran father-of-two charged with silently praying

An army veteran who served in Afghanistan has blasted police for 'prosecuting thoughtcrimes' after he was charged for silently praying for his dead son near an abortion clinic.

Adam Smith-Connor, 50, claims he was approached by two council officers as he stood on the pavement outside the BPAS clinic on Ophir Road in Bournemouth last year. He alleges he was questioned about 'the nature of his prayer'.

Mr Smith-Connor, of Southampton, who said his girlfriend had an abortion two decades ago, told the officers he was 'praying for my son', but one of them explained he was in breach of the terms of a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO).

The father-of-two and physiotherapist claims he was issued a fine for breaking a local 'buffer zone' regulation that reportedly forbids 'expression of approval or disapproval' of abortion. He pleaded not guilty to the charge in August this year.

Bournemouth Council, which charged him with the offence, claims he refused to leave the required area when asked by an officer, failing to comply with a requirement of the PSPO.

Now, ahead of his court hearing next week, Mr Smith-Connor has questioned how in an 'apparently free society' he can be 'criminalised on the basis of what I expressed silently, in the privacy of my own mind'.

Mr Smith-Connor, who served in the military for 20 years, was confronted by police in November last year as he silently prayed with his back turned away from the clinic.

Body camera footage appears to show police questioning the 'nature' of his prayers. He explained that he was praying about the loss of his son 22 years ago and for those who are making decisions about abortion today.

He was then issued with a notice of a penalty fine of £100 which allegedly acknowledged that he was being charged for 'praying for his deceased son'.

He entered a 'not guilty' plea at Poole Magistrates Court in August and is due in court for a hearing on November 16.

Mr Smith-Connor today is speaking out against the prosecution of so-called 'thoughtcrimes' in the UK.

'Nobody should be prosecuted for silent prayer,' he told MailOnline. 'It is unfathomable that in an apparently free society, I am being criminalised on the basis of what I expressed silently, in the privacy of my own mind.

'I served for 20 years in the army reserves, including a tour in Afghanistan, to protect the fundamental freedoms that this country is built upon.

'It troubles me greatly to see our freedoms eroded to the extent that thoughtcrimes are now being prosecuted in the UK.'

The veteran said it is 'unthinkable' that he was issued a penalty 'simply' for praying for Jacob, the son 'I lost to an abortion I paid for'.

He added: 'The decision I made all those years ago now grieves me deeply. I was praying also for those contemplating abortion, especially those in vulnerable situations who believe abortion is their "only choice".

'It isn't for the authorities to determine the contents of my thoughts on this matter, on a public street.'

Mr Smith-Connor is represented by ADF, a British branch of the American conservative Christian legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom, who have campaigned and lobbied against the right to an abortion and against the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the States. They are part of the global organisation, ADF International, headquartered in Vienna, Austria.

Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, argued that Mr Smith-Connor had been 'criminalised for his beliefs.

He said: 'Adam is one of several individuals who have faced a penalty for their "thoughtcrimes" on the streets of the UK this year.

'This simply shouldn't be happening in a democratic society – all should be free to hold their own beliefs in the privacy of their own minds, including reflections about their own experiences of abortion.'

Mr Igunnubole alleged that if his client was 'thinking about an issue other than abortion' no issue would have been raised.

'In permitting the prosecution of silent prayer, we are sailing into dangerous waters regarding human rights protections in the UK,' he said

'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.'

A Council spokesperson said that Mr Smith-Connor was charged with breaching a term of the PSPO on August 9 this year.

'The allegations are that on 24th November 2022 Mr Smith-Connor failed without reasonable excuse to comply with a requirement of the Public Spaces Protection Order (OPHIR ROAD AND SURROUNDING AREA) 2022, in that he failed to leave the required area when asked by an Authorised Officer,' a statement read.

'This was in breach of prohibition 4g of the said Public Spaces Protection Order (OPHIR ROAD AND SURROUNDING AREA) 2022.

'Due to the ongoing legal proceedings, the Council is unable to make a further statement in relation to this matter.'