Belfast Telegraph

Pro-life campaigner to fight charge she harassed Marie Stopes clinic boss Dawn Purvis

By Chris Kilpatrick

A Prominent pro-life campaigner is accused of waging a campaign of harassment against the director of Northern Ireland's only abortion clinic.

Bernadette Smyth, who heads up the Precious Life charity, has been charged with harassing Dawn Purvis of Marie Stopes during January and February of this year.

Ms Smyth has been a vocal opponent of the clinic, which opened in Belfast in 2012 amid protests from pro-life groups.

A barrister said Ms Smyth (51), of Suffolk Street, Ballymena, Co Antrim, strongly denied any wrongdoing.

"This definitely will be contested," he told judge Paul Copeland yesterday.

He said both parties would be known to the court as being high-profile figures.

"This is a very complex and sensitive case," the lawyer said.

"There is a public interest element in this case as well," the judge said.

The court was told five witnesses had been identified but only one could be agreed by the legal teams.

No details of the alleged harassment were outlined at Belfast Laganside Court.

And neither Ms Smyth nor Ms Purvis were present for the short hearing. The case was adjourned until next month.

Ms Purvis, a former leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, declined to comment when contacted by the Belfast Telegraph.

A spokeswoman for Marie Stopes also declined to comment.

Ms Smyth founded Precious Life in 1997 and previously defended some of the tactics used by the group to publicise its message.

She has previously spoken out to defend the use of graphic images of aborted foetuses.

The group also pickets organisations and people connected to organisations that may be associated with abortion in some way.

Abortions can be carried out only to preserve the life of the mother or if continuing the pregnancy would have other serious, permanent physical or mental health effects.

Marie Stopes provides medical termination of pregnancy up to nine weeks gestation, subject to legal criteria being met.

Abortions are not illegal in Northern Ireland, but are very strictly controlled.

Marie Stopes' other services include family planning and contraception, STI testing and treatment, HIV counselling, testing and referral.

Background

Bernadette Smyth founded Precious Life in 1997 and it is believed to be the largest anti-abortion movement in Ireland. Dawn Purvis is the director of the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast. It opened in 2012 and was the first clinic of its kind to provide abortions to women in Northern Ireland.

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