The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children has said that it is disturbed by the news that a pro-life campaigner in Belfast has been charged with harassment.
Bernadette Smyth was found guilty of harassing Dawn Purvis of the Marie Stopes clinic and was ordered to pay compensation.
District Judge Chris Holmes told Belfast Magistrates’ Court: “I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not feel it’s appropriate for anyone to be stopped outside this clinic in any form, shape or fashion and questioned either to their identity, why they are going in there and being forced to involve themselves in conversation at times when they are almost certainly going to be stressed and very possibly distressed.”
But Liam Gibson, SPUC’s Northern Ireland development officer, said: “I find it very hard to believe that Bernadette Smyth, a highly-respected and long-serving pro-life leader, is guilty of criminal conduct. It would be quite wrong for her forthright opposition to abortion to be misconstrued as harrassment of women considering abortion or of abortion centre staff. SPUC supports her legal team’s decision to appeal today’s ruling.”
Mr Gibson continued: “At present we do not have an official transcript of the judge’s remarks. Once an official transcript is available, we will be seeking a legal opinion on the judgment. If the media’s reports of the judge’s remarks are accurate, it appears that the ruling may represent a disturbing curtailment of pro-lifers’ freedom of speech and other civil freedoms. There is an unbroken tradition in both Northern Ireland and Great Britain of pro-life vigils outside abortion centres being conducted lawfully and peaceably.”
Bernadette Smyth who leads the pro-life group Precious Life denies allegations of harassment.
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