Northern Ireland

Dawn Purvis 'harassed' by Marie Stopes anti-abortion protest

Bernadette Smyth
Image caption Bernadette Smyth denies harassing Dawn Purvis of the Marie Stopes clinic

A Marie Stopes clinic director was left "extremely shaken and upset" by alleged harassment outside her workplace, a court has heard.

Anti-abortion campaigner Bernie Smyth denies harassing Dawn Purvis twice in January and February.

The Marie Stopes clinic opened in Belfast in October 2012, amid protests from anti-abortion groups.

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

'Cackled'

A woman can only have an abortion in Northern Ireland if it can be proven her life is at risk or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health.

Ms Purvis told Belfast Magistrates Court that on one occasion she asked protesters heckling her to stop harassing her, but Ms Smyth replied: "You ain't seen harassment yet, darling."

She told a prosecution lawyer she was "extremely shaken and upset" by the confrontation.

Ms Purvis also claimed that after leaving her son and a friend at the front door of the clinic on Great Victoria Street, one of the protesters chased after the pair.

She said that when she shouted "leave them alone", Ms Smyth began to cackle and laugh in an exaggerated way.

'Dramatic'

The court was also shown CCTV footage of the two alleged incidents.

A defence lawyer accused Ms Purvis of deliberately putting her hand out in front of the protesters in a dramatic fashion, during one of the incidents, as she knew the events were being recorded on CCTV. Ms Purvis denied this.

When the defence barrister asked Ms Purvis about her involvement with pro-choice groups, the judge interrupted the proceedings to say he would "not allow this case to become a debate on pro-life or pro-choice".

The case has been been adjourned until September.

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