Abort67 protest against a clinic in Blackfriars. Yvette Cooper's proposal would create a "buffer zone" around clinics. Photo: Abort67/Telegraph
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Yvette Cooper proposes protest-free buffer zones outside abortion clinics

Following increased claims of intimidation and harassment outside clinics, Cooper has proposed the introduction of "buffer zones".

Labour leadership candidate Yvette Cooper has called on the government to introduce “buffer zones” around abortion clinics in response to reports that women are having difficulty accessing services due to harassment from protestors. She said:

Women should never be intimidated or threatened on their way to a healthcare appointment or on their way to work. No matter how strongly protesters feel about abortion themselves, they don't have the right to harass, intimidate or film women who need to make their own very personal decision with their doctors. Everyone has the right to access legal healthcare, medical advice and supprt and to have some privacy and space to do so – and that includes abortion services. 

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) has claimed that an increased number of protests outside clinics are intimidating women and interfering with their access to legally available medical treatment. Following the tactics of pro-life groups in the US, UK campaign groups like Abort67 and 40 Days for Life have taken to posting photographs they contend are of aborted foetuses outside clinics and filming women as they enter.

It's claimed that one clinic has been closed as the “direct result” of protest actions which included blocking the entrance to the building.

Staff have also been targeted, with one worker at a Blackfriars clinic requiring a police escort to get to her car after leaving work. Abortion Rights, the national campaign for a woman’s right to choose, have called for the government to intervene after police at the practice said they “do not feel existing legislation gives them the space” to adequately control the situation. They claim that “[a]nti-abortion extremists” have “flooded the area”, specifically targeting a mother and baby.

Speaking to the New Statesman, Abort67 founder Andy Stevenson says that MPs are"gullible" and "being hoodwinked" by Bpas. He claims that the allegations of harassment are "completely false" and calls buffer zones an unecessary attack on free speech, "based on lies".

Cooper explains that her proposal, which draws on legal remedies suggested by the US-based National Abortion Federation, would not prevent pro-life activists from protesting but would require them to stay a certain distance from patients:

Everyone should be allowed to hold legitimate protests. But they shouldn't be intimidatory ones right in front of the doors of clinics - we don't want US style abortion wars here. That's why we need a new system of buffer zones which can be introduced to move the location of protests or prevent filming of staff and patients if problems arise.

An Early Day Motion also advocating for the creation of buffer zones was introduced in parliament last year by Caroline Lucas, and has been signed by Cooper's fellow leadership contender, Jeremy Corbyn.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear