Bernadette "Bernie" Smyth, one of Northern Ireland's most prominent anti-abortion activists—she has picketed the country's only abortion clinic since the day it opened—has been convicted of harassing the clinic's director. Smyth was convicted today of two counts of harassment against Dawn Purvis, who runs the Belfast branch of Marie Stopes, a family planning organization with offices throughout the United Kingdom.
Smyth is the founder of Precious Life, which bills itself as the largest pro-life group in Northern Ireland. Since Marie Stopes Belfast opened in 2012, she and a group of Precious Life campaigners have handed out flyers, held up grisly photos and staged protests outside the clinic. Smyth was convicted of harassing Purvis during two separate confrontations in January and February of this year, after first denying either incident had occurred and then calling the whole thing a "set-up." From the Belfast Telegraph, describing the January confrontation:
During an exchange with protestors on January 9 the clinic director said she put her hand up and asked them to stop harassing her.
At that stage Mrs Smyth was said to have replied in an exaggerated Ballymena/American drawl: "You ain't seen harassment yet, darling."
She originally denied to police having used the word harassment, but on viewing CCTV footage of the incident accepted it had been said in a joke.
Smyth was also accused in court of "laughing menacingly" at Purvis, which she responded to by saying that Purvis had "growled" at her first. That led to the only amusing thing about this whole incident, the following exchange between Smyth and the prosecutor. Again, from the Telegraph:
The prosecutor put it to her, however, that she had been "moving around in front of the window, cackling in a witchy manner".
Mrs Smyth emphatically rejected her description of the incident.
"I can't agree with this court referring to me as a witch. I'm a Christian," she replied.
In his remarks today, according to the BBC, the judge in the case also accused Smyth of "deliberately and maliciously" slandering a police officer during the trial, by suggesting, without basis, that senior police officials had questioned the professional conduct of that officer. The BBC adds that the judge said because of those unfounded allegations, "the range of possible sentencing may go from community service to imprisonment."
Precious Life hasn't yet publicly commented on the conviction. In a previous statement, they said the whole thing was an assault on both liberty and unborn babies: "This is not only an attack on Bernadette Smyth, a manifestation of the ongoing battle between Precious Life and Marie Stopes in Belfast, but an extensive attack on the religious freedom of those who defend the rights of unborn children. This court case is a ploy to distract and deter those who stand up and pray for the rights of unborn children and to curtail their religious freedom."
Smyth is now barred from protesting in front of the clinic and will likely pay unspecified cash damages. Her sentencing will be December 17.
Smyth pictured in February 2014. Image via Facebook