In mid-December, Bernie Smyth, pro-life campaigner and director of the Irish organisation Precious Life, was found guilty of harassing the director of Marie Stopes Belfast, Dawn Purvis. Smyth and Precious Life have led a campaign against the Belfast-based clinic since it opened, protesting daily outside the clinic and holding regular ‘vigils’. The organisation operates in a similar way to Abort 67, the group who is currently under fire for harassing and intimidating women outside the Blackfriars BPAS Clinic.
Smyth was given 100 hours community service, a £2,000 compensation payment to Purvis, and perhaps most significantly, a five year restraining order from harassing Purvis or anyone trying to enter the Marie Stopes clinic. She will also be forbidden from going within 20 yards of the clinic. While Smyth is set to appeal the case, this is overall a huge win for pro-choice campaigners in the north. Hopefully it signals recognition of how dangerous and harmful the tactics of groups like Precious Life are. Purvis recently wrote a piece for Mums Net, talking about how the pro-life protesters outside Marie Stopes have no idea of the harm they cause.
In the Republic of Ireland, a case emerged of a woman in her 20s being kept on life-support because she was 17 weeks pregnant. The woman tragically suffered catastrophic injuries as a result of a blood clot and is now brain dead. Her family wanted her life support to be switched off, but medical staff were scared at the possible legal ramifications that may have occurred due to the complex practicalities of the Eighth Amendment: an amendment to the Irish constitution which gives an “equal right to life” of the “mother and unborn”. This meant that she could have been on life support for 20 weeks, despite the fact that the foetus did not have a good chance of survival and was well below the point of viability. A woman’s body was quite literally being used as an incubator in Ireland in 2014. The case was brought before the High Court in late December and, fortunately, it was ruled that the doctors could switch her life support off. This landmark judgement, which challenges the Irish constitution, has set precedent. Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, one of the three judges presiding over the case, said that the court “is satisfied, in the circumstances of this case, that it is in the best interests of the unborn child; it should authorise at the discretion of the medical team the withdrawal of ongoing somatic support being provided in this tragic and unfortunate case”.
Pro-choice groups have now demanded a referendum on the issue in order to clarify medical guidelines on abortion in the country. Abortion Rights UK support the Abortion Rights Campaign in the Republic of Ireland and their call for a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment. Speaking to The Irish Times, the ARC said that “[these] laws facilitate this monstrous treatment” and that “women are not vessels”.
Executive Committee member