N. Ireland pro-life leader’s ‘troubling’ conviction was politically motivated: supporters

Bernadette Smyth has 'prevented abortion legislation again and again,' says Life Institute's Niamh Uí Bhriain. 'The timing of these ridiculous charges stink.'
Wed Dec 3, 2014 - 4:29 pm EST
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Bernadette Smyth, the head of Northern Ireland's Precious Life, speaks at LifeSiteNews' Rome Life Forum in May 2014. Steve Jalsevac / LifeSiteNews

Irish pro-life leaders have expressed disappointment but not surprise in reacting to the ruling last month against Bernadette Smyth, a prominent opponent of Marie Stopes’ illegal abortion facility in Belfast. Smyth, head of Northern Ireland’s leading pro-life group, Precious Life, was accused of “harassment” by abortion campaigner Dawn Purvis who made a complaint to police and told the court that she was fearful in the face of organized opposition to the facility’s ongoing activity.

Smyth’s legal counsel has said she will appeal the conviction, adding that the accusation was clearly politically motivated.

Niamh Uí Bhriain, the head of Dublin-based Life Institute, told LifeSiteNews that the legal attack on Bernadette Smyth came at precisely the moment when she was publicly leading “a huge campaign” to oppose the liberalization of Northern Ireland’s abortion laws.

“Bernadette is hugely effective at what she does with Precious Life and they have prevented abortion legislation again and again in the North by rallying the people. The timing of these ridiculous charges stink,” she said.

The judge who ruled on the case, Chris Holmes, made no reference in his ruling to the fact that abortion is a criminal act in Northern Ireland, and that the Marie Stopes facility opened illegally two years ago and its presence remains highly legally contentious. Instead, he told the BBC, “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.”

Uí Bhriain accused Purvis, a former politician and now head of the Marie Stopes facility, of “simply using this complaint to try to shut down opposition.” She said she found the statements made by the judge “extraordinary” and “deeply troubling.”

“I would question what motivations are at play here to be honest,” she said. “This is a judge who has openly admitted to having a real issue with any pro-life presence outside the abortion facility. He appears to believe he can suspend the civil and human rights of any activist who wishes to counsel women and that’s a decision that could have very troubling implications, not just for pro-life activists.”

Liam Gibson, the Belfast representative of the UK’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, echoed these larger constitutional concerns, telling LifeSiteNews that the ruling “has to be taken pretty seriously.”

“It has potentially such dramatic implications for the whole of the pro-life movement or for anyone who is trying to keep up any presence in a contested area of social policy,” Gibson said. He noted that Judge Holmes’ court is a “low-level” criminal court that normally hears cases of crimes like shoplifting, but this case could “have potentially quite serious consequences.”

Gibson said that given his experience with Smyth and the pro-life movement in Northern Ireland, it is “very doubtful if there really was a case to be answered.”

“It’s my opinion of Bernie Smyth that there’s no way she would ever transgress the law. She’s a seasoned campaigner and it would put in jeopardy everything she’s trying to do.”

What the decision does demonstrate, however, is the “reach” and influence of Marie Stopes, one of the largest players in the international abortion industry, with revenue in excess of £145 million per year. The organization operates abortion facilities in many countries abroad and acts as a major player pushing for international sanctions against pro-life laws at the UN and European Union. 

“Not only are they prepared to bully pro-lifers in Northern Ireland,” Gibson said, “they go around the world flouting the law.” He said that SPUC has records showing that Marie Stopes routinely goes into countries were abortion is illegal and sets up abortion facilities anyway, claiming when challenged that they are acting within the letter of the law, precisely as they did in Northern Ireland. He said that workers from Marie Stopes have admitted that their policy is to “change the law by breaking it.”

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Gibson also questioned why Judge Holmes would have “made such sweeping statements” about people being “stopped” in front of the Belfast facility, since this was no part of the case against Smyth. In court, he said, “nobody alleged that anyone using the facility had been stopped and asked what they were doing. That was never part of the case. So why he commented on that is difficult to understand.”

“It doesn’t appear that it was ever a simple case of an alleged offence,” Gibson added. “It was clearly more a political issue than a genuine legal case.”

This assessment is especially troubling, he said, given that the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, another British abortion giant, is currently pressing their friends at Westminster to pass “bubble zone” legislation outlawing pro-life speech outside their facilities in England. 

“Obviously,” Gibson said, “if this is going to set a legal precedent it is something that would concern us very much.”

“There’s a long history of peaceful demonstrations and outreach to women outside the facilities like Marie Stopes and Family Planning Association.” The people who do this work, he added, are often themselves “subject to abuse and sometimes violence, and yet they’re being characterised as aggressive and intrusive and somehow criminal simply because they object to the legalised killing of children before they’re born.”

Smyth’s legal counsel, Aiden Carlin, said that she had never used “bad language” or made “any attempt to make contact with Dawn Purvis,” and that it was Purvis who had “approached Bernadette Smyth’s personal space on both occasions” mentioned in the case.

  abortion, bernadette smyth, northern ireland, precious life

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