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Nov 19, 10:53 AM EST

Northern Ireland anti-abortion activist convicted


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Northern Ireland anti-abortion activist convicted

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DUBLIN (AP) -- Northern Ireland's most prominent anti-abortion activist was convicted Wednesday of harassing the director of Belfast's only abortion clinic in the latest chapter of a bitter two-year confrontation.

Bernadette Smyth, leader of the Precious Life group, was convicted on two counts of threatening Dawn Purvis, who runs British family planning service Marie Stopes' Belfast branch.

It is the only such clinic on the island of Ireland, where abortion is legal only in extreme cases where a woman's life is deemed at risk from her pregnancy.

Belfast Judge Chris Holmes said he would sentence Smyth on Dec. 17, when she could face a jail sentence. The judge accused Smyth and her legal team of slandering Purvis and the detective who investigated the complaint.

"Throughout this case there has been a concerted attack on anyone seen to be getting in the way of Ms. Smyth," the judge said.

Holmes said he would place a restraining order on Smyth, barring her from protesting outside the clinic and ordered her to pay it unspecified cash damages. He accepted prosecution evidence that when Purvis asked her to stop threatening women entering the building, she replied: "You ain't seen harassment yet, darling."

Smyth said she would appeal the verdict and remained determined to force the clinic's closure. It has experienced daily street protests since its October 2012 opening.

Her lawyer, Aiden Carlin, called the verdict "a disappointment for Christians throughout the world."

The clinic advises hundreds of women annually on how to receive abortions in England, where the practice has been legal since 1967. It provides abortion-inducing pills to legally qualified patients if they are less than nine weeks pregnant, but doesn't offer surgical abortions.

An estimated 4,000 women from the Republic of Ireland, and 1,000 from Northern Ireland, travel annually to England for terminations.

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