Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Precious harassment

Some of the first words to come out of Mrs Bernadette Smyth's lawyer's mouth this afternoon was that the verdict was "a disappointment for Christians worldwide".

In light of the accusations of bullying in certain Christian quarters in Northern Ireland about another matter this is a bit rich. For those not aware of the antics of Mrs Smyth's Precious Life organisation they regular in large numbers stand outside the Marie Stopes centre in Belfast, questioning any woman of child bearing age who approaches the premises and asks them why they are going in.

The clinic has offered sexual and reproductive healthcare and early medical abortions within Northern Ireland's laws since it opened on Great Victoria Street in October 2012. But the harassment of those who regularly stand outside and picket is something that scares and horrifies a lot of us who have witnessed it. These are women many of whom are vulnerable enough, to actually have them take the steps of going through that barrage takes a certain amount of additional bravely that women do not have to encounter for similar advise elsewhere in the UK.

The particular allegations against Mrs Smyth come against Dawn Purvis the former PUP MLA who is now the director of the centre. On one occasion Ms Purvis asked the crowd to stop harassing her, only for Mrs Smyth to retort, "You ain't seen harassment yet, darling." This she denied until it was shown to her on CCTV when her story reverted to it being a joke.

On another occasion the venom was aimed at a female friend of Ms Purvis's son as they left the offices together having stopped in to leave some frozen food in the office. On this occasion Mrs Smyth followed the young woman up the street to carry on harassing her.

The lawyer is right about something, this is a disappointment for Christians worldwide, but not the verdict. The bible doesn't tell you to go out harassing those who disagree with you. It doesn't tell you to leave them fearing for their lives at your, or your acolytes' hands. The disappointment to Christian's worldwide is Mrs Smyth an the way she has gone about disagreeing with something. The way she and her followers make people who already feel vulnerable feel worse as they approach the centre. They say they are reaching out in love, but in essence as the court has ruled today they are really reaching out with hate.

Mrs Smyth was warned today that she could even face a prison sentence for her actions, but is already facing an injunction about being outside the Marie Stopes Centre.

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