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Anti-abortion protester Smyth to open women's clinic in wake of appeal victory

By Laurence White

Published 30/06/2015

Pro-life activist Bernie Smyth outside court yesterday with friends and family
Pro-life activist Bernie Smyth outside court yesterday with friends and family

Pro-life campaigner Bernadette Smyth is to press ahead with setting up a new healthcare clinic in Belfast in opposition to the Marie Stopes facility.

It is hoped to open the clinic in September in the city centre, close to the Marie Stopes clinic.

Mrs Smyth was speaking hours after she won her appeal against being convicted of harassing former Marie Stopes director Dawn Purvis.

Mrs Smyth said her own clinic, an affiliate of Stanton Healthcare in Idaho, USA, will offer any woman facing a crisis pregnancy alternatives to abortion. "This is a clinic to replace the Marie Stopes International clinic," she said.

"I intend to focus all my attention and time to setting this new facility up in September in Belfast. This will be the first Stanton Healthcare clinic in Europe.

"I want to show vulnerable women that there are alternatives to abortion out there. I want to give them hope and help them through whatever crisis they are facing. There are many women out there in need of such a facility. Marie Stopes International has not really been successful here because many women have chosen alternatives to its services and we have been putting forward real choices."

Stanton Healthcare has a small number of centres in the US and it sets out its mission as "to prevent teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and to provide women facing an unplanned pregnancy with life-affirming options in an environment that promotes physical, emotional, and mental well-being".

Among the services it lists as providing are early pregnancy detection testing, options counselling, post-abortion examinations and support, sexual integrity programmes, client advocacy, child birth education, provision of maternity and baby supplies, practical assistance including referrals for medical examinations, STD tests, legal advice and adoption procedures.

Mrs Smyth, director of Precious Life, was in joyous mood last night as she celebrated her appeal victory. She had been found guilty last December of the harassment of Ms Purvis and sentenced to 100 hours community service.

Ms Purvis said she was left frightened for her safety as pro-life campaigners staged protests outside Marie Stopes' Great Victoria Street premises. She said in one incident, she told how she put her hand up and asked them to stop harassing her. Mrs Smyth was said to have replied in an exaggerated Ballymena/American drawl: "You ain't seen harassment yet, darling."

She was ordered to complete 100 hours community service and told to pay Ms Purvis £2,000 compensation after her original hearing at Belfast Magistrates Court last November.

But yesterday, an appeal judge ruled there was insufficient evidence that she had harassed Ms Purvis.

Mrs Smyth said: "My family - my husband and four children - have been through hell and back in the last 18 months since I was first cautioned about this matter. I see the judgment as vindication of what I said all along that I had not harassed anyone and now I can breathe a breath of relief."

The 52-year-old, who has five grandchildren, added: "It has been tough on us all but I now regard this as V for Victory Day and I can now close that chapter of my life.

"I feel I should never had been charged. I have been campaigning for the unborn child for 18 years and have organised events which have seen thousands of people come onto the streets in Belfast."

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