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17 December 2014

Northern Ireland: Bernadette Smyth sentenced

An anti-abortion protester convicted of harassing a Marie Stopes clinic director has been sentenced to 100 hours community service.

Bernadette Smyth, director of Precious Life, must also pay £2,000 compensation to the victim, Dawn Purvis. A five-year restraining order from pestering Ms Purvis or anyone seeking to enter the clinic was also imposed, BBC News Online reports.

However, Mrs Smyth’s solicitor said the sentence was the subject of appeal and “has no affect in the meantime”.

Under the terms of the restraining order, Mrs Smyth will also be excluded from going within 20 yards of the clinic on Belfast’s Great Victoria Street.

The 52-year-old anti-abortion campaigner had denied harassing Ms Purvis, a former Northern Ireland Assembly member, on two dates earlier this year. However, on Wednesday a judge at Belfast Magistrates Court said: “The behaviour of stopping people, questioning them about why they were going into the premises, was a direct harassment of Dawn Purvis.”

After the sentencing, Ms Purvis said: “The fact that someone in a position of authority in Northern Ireland has stood up and said ‘this is inappropriate behaviour you have crossed the line and it’s not acceptable’ is really, really important not only for us and the staff that work in the clinic but for the hundreds and hundreds of women that use our services.”

Anti-abortion campaigners have protested at the door of the Marie Stopes clinic since it opened in Belfast two years ago. It is the first private organisation to offer early medical abortions in Northern Ireland, where the legislation regarding pregnancy termination is much more strict than in the rest of the UK. A woman can only have an abortion if it can be proven that her life is at risk, or if there is a serious danger of permanent damage to her mental or physical health.

Mrs Smyth’s solicitor said her conviction was “a disappointment for Christians worldwide”. As she left the court, supporters of Mrs Smyth, some of whom had earlier formed a prayer circle in the public waiting area, cheered and clapped. Her solicitor said they would be appealing the verdict and the sentence, with a date set for 16 January.

Bernadette Smyth: Anti-abortion protester given community service. BBC News Online, 17 December 2014

Also read:

Northern Ireland: Anti-abortion protester found guilty of harassing clinic director. Reproductive Review, 21 November 2014