Bernadette Smyth, above, founder of Northern Ireland’s largest anti-abortion outfit, Precious Life, has expressed anger over an ‘unduly lenient’ three-month suspended sentence imposed by Belfast Crown Court on a 21-year-old woman who bought drugs online to terminate a pregnancy.
Smyth is reported here as saying she was “very concerned about the judgement” and was:
Very hopeful that this case will be reviewed. We are in a crisis situation here, it’s a human crisis and we, Precious Life have sent to the PPS for NI (Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland) our concerns calling for this case to be brought back to the appeals court.
But Precious Life has no right to appeal the sentence. Only the director of public prosecutions can ask the Court of Appeal to review whether the sentence was unduly lenient.
The human rights organisation Amnesty International said it was “appalled” by the conviction. Patrick Corrigan, AI’s Northern Ireland director, said:
A woman who needs an abortion is not a criminal – the law should not treat her as such. This tragic case reveals that making abortion illegal does not stop women in Northern Ireland needing or seeking terminations.
Those who can afford it travel to England for the treatment they need. Over 1,000 women make that journey from Northern Ireland every year.
Unlike the rest of the UK, abortion is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health.
A court heard on Monday that the woman, who cannot be named, was 10 to 12 weeks pregnant when she obtained the tablets in July 2014.
Two of her housemates reported her to police after they found blood-stained items and a male foetus in the bin of the house they shared in south Belfast.
She was was convicted after admitting two offences – procuring her own abortion by using a poison, and of supplying a poison with intent to procure a miscarriage.
The Public Prosecution Service said the pursuance of the case had been in the public interest. A PPS spokesman said:
The test for prosecution has two elements. It involves an assessment as to whether the available evidence provides a reasonable prospect of conviction, and also whether prosecution is in the public interest.
In this particular case it was decided, having carefully considered all of the relevant evidence and information, that both elements were met.
A range of factors were relevant to the balancing of the public interest, including the important fact that the law in Northern Ireland makes the conduct in question a serious criminal offence, in respect of which a conviction carries the potential of a significant custodial sentence.
Smyth herself had a brush with the law in 2014 when she was sentenced to to 100-hours of community service and a handed a restraining order for harassing the previous head of the Marie Stopes clinic, Dawn Purvis. She later won an appeal against the sentence.
A lengthy rant – headed “Where is the moral outcry?” – has appeared on the Precious Life website, and was probably penned by Smyth, who is:
As the leading pro-life group in Northern Ireland which has been fighting for the rights of unborn children for nineteen years and has managed to keep abortion illegal in Northern Ireland, Precious Life cannot in conscience accept this court judgment. Our legal advisers have written to Mr Barra McGrory QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, asking that this matter be referred back to the Court of Appeal.
Many people are struggling to understand why we have taken this step. Our reasons are as follows: An offence under Section 58 is punishable with imprisonment for life or for any shorter term. An offence under Section 59 is punishable with imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.
The core purpose of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 is the protection of unborn children. The unborn baby boy in this case is the silent victim, the little person, who has been pushed aside and forgotten in this media furore.
It is utterly heartbreaking, distressing, and a great injustice in today’s society, that a young woman would be driven to buy abortion pills, have an abortion, and dump her unborn baby in a bin. It is just as heartbreaking, distressing, and a great injustice that a woman would walk into an abortion centre or hospital, lie on an operating table, and have her unborn child ripped piece by piece from her womb and discarded, no matter how much that abortion cost and no matter where that abortion happened.
In this case, the young woman was taken advantage of by those anonymous predators who hide behind various sites advertising illegal abortion pills and taking money from vulnerable women who feel they have no other choice. But Precious Life is also thinking about that little baby who lost his life and was thrown into a bin like a piece of rubbish.
Crying out about the neglect and injustice inflicted upon this little baby doesn’t make us cold, cruel, or wicked. We are simply doing what others may be too ashamed or too afraid to do. We are seeing it for what it is and calling it what it is: a crime.
We believe a three month jail sentence suspended for two years is unduly lenient, considering the nature of the criminal offence committed ….
By passing such a lenient sentence we believe that Judge McFarland undermined the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and undermined the seriousness of the crime of killing an unborn child. We are asking for this case to be reviewed because we fear that this judgment will set a dangerous precedent for future cases of illegal abortions in Northern Ireland. It is not about wanting to punish the young woman, but to honour the law and the protection of every human life.
We need to look at the bigger picture. What will this sentencing mean for women and unborn children in Northern Ireland? Far from deterring women from committing the crime, vulnerable women will not seek and receive the help and support they badly need to overcome the difficult circumstances they find themselves in, but would instead fall into the trap of going online and buying and taking illegal abortion pills.
It will happen again and again. It will become mundane and lo and behold, we have abortion on demand. The shock and horror of finding an aborted baby in a bin, a bag of clinical waste, or sewer pipe, will be gradually washed away from the people’s conscience.
Bernadette Smyth and Precious Life have worked too hard and sacrificed too much to let this happen. That is why we are not accepting this judgment. We will keep fighting to ensure that the value and dignity of every mother and every unborn child is recognised and protected in Northern Ireland.
Hat tip: PPS and BarrieJohn