Belfast Telegraph

Family planning clinic visitor 'ran on to road to flee' anti-abortion rally

By Allan Preston

Anti-abortion protesters in Belfast forced a woman attending a family planning clinic to flee into city centre traffic, an MLA has claimed.

Clare Bailey from the Green Party claimed protesters often acted aggressively outside the Marie Stopes clinic on Great Victoria Street and the Family Planning Association at Shaftesbury Square.

Yesterday, the South Belfast MLA met with MPs and activists in the House of Commons to call for buffer zones at the entrances to family planning clinics.

"In January 2017, I launched my own consultation on safe access to healthcare services due to the harassment and intimidation of women trying to access both the Marie Stopes clinic and also the Family Planning Association," she said.

"As an activist and escort for the Marie Stopes clinic, I have witnessed first-hand the intimidation and harassment of women trying to access healthcare.

"Women are so frightened by the actions of these protesters.

"They are regularly filmed, reported to police or received threats to have their images uploaded to social media. I have been assaulted, spat on, splashed with holy water and even had a client run into oncoming traffic to escape these people."

While defending the right to free speech and protest, Ms Bailey said those responsible were instead engaged in a "concerted campaign of harassment and intimidation against women on the streets of Belfast".

She added: "This is being taken very seriously in the UK and it is time Northern Ireland did the same."

Last month, Ealing Council passed a motion to ban anti-choice campaigners from harassing women outside abortion clinics.

In Portsmouth, councillors backed proposals to consider buffer zones after recent anti-abortion activity outside the St Mary's Hospital. But Bernie Smyth, campaigner for the anti-abortion group Precious Life, described Ms Bailey's claims that protesters acted in an intimidating manner as "complete nonsense".

She added the PSNI were better equipped to respond.

In 2015, Mrs Smyth successfully appealed a conviction after she was initially convicted of harassing former Marie Stopes clinic director Dawn Purvis.

The guilty verdict was quashed after a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence in the case against her.

In October this year, Moira Brennan from Precious Life was ordered by a judge not to "harass, pester, annoy, molest or assault" a volunteer at the Marie Stopes clinic.

Volunteer Saoirse Johnston had complained of repeated harassment while working as a client safety escort, where she accompanies those nervous of protesters into the clinic.

In 2015, Ms Brennan was convicted of assaulting an employee of a sexual health charity as she left an unplanned pregnancy clinic in Belfast.

The Ballymoney woman was fined £400 and ordered to pay her victim £400 in compensation after hitting the employee with a clipboard.

Belfast Telegraph

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