Belfast Telegraph

Bernadette Smyth says she won't let court ruling stop her protesting against abortion

By Deborah McAleese

Pro-life campaigner Bernadette Smyth has said a restraining order banning her from going within 20 yards of the Marie Stopes clinic will not stop her work.

Despite the court-imposed exclusion order, Smyth's anti-abortion charity Precious Life is planning a candlelit carol service around an empty manger outside the clinic on Saturday evening.

Smyth was sentenced yesterday at Belfast Magistrates Court to 100 hours' community service and banned from going within 20 yards of the Belfast clinic for five years after she was found guilty of harassing its director, Dawn Purvis.

The 52 year-old mother-of-four was also restrained from "pestering, interfering or molesting Ms Purvis or anyone else going into or out of the clinic" for five years.

In addition, she was ordered to pay the former MLA - who said she had been frightened by the harassment - £2,000 in compensation.

Smyth is the founder of Precious Life, and she, along with other campaigners, have protested at the doors of the Marie Stopes since it opened in Belfast two years ago.

Marie Stopes is the first private organisation to offer early medical abortions in Northern Ireland.

Smyth was found guilty last month of harassing Ms Purvis on two dates earlier this year.

Sentencing her yesterday, deputy District Judge Holmes said: "The behaviour of stopping people, questioning them about why they were going into the premises, was a direct harassment of Dawn Purvis. You were harassing Dawn Purvis by harassing the people coming into the premises."

But just a short time after the conclusion of the case, Smyth told the Belfast Telegraph: "It is only a 20 yard exclusion. That doesn't take me away. It is not going to impact on my work."

She added: "I would love to say more about it all but I have been advised not to discuss the case for legal reasons as an appeal has now been lodged."

Precious Life also sent out an invitation yesterday via social media to an 'empty manger' candlelight carol service on Saturday evening outside the clinic. "The purpose of the event is to bring the light and joy and hope of Christmas to this place of darkness, misery and despair," the invitation says.

One of Smyth's supporters, Andrea Minichiello Williams, chief of the Christian Legal Centre, said: "What Bernadette Smyth and Precious Life are doing is within law. What Marie Stopes is doing in its centre is not. Abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland and Bernadette is perfectly within her rights to campaign in an effort to keep it that way."

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