Last night, the President of the United States was being feted by the Queen, at the direction of the UK Government, enjoying the full pomp and ceremony of a state banquet.
Meanwhile in America, many, many women were facing what the UN has called “torture” and “gender-based violence”, suffering crisis pregnancies but denied access to abortion.
These women are the poor and the disadvantaged, those not easily able to travel or access services still available in parts of the United States but increasingly being denied in others.
More, Donald Trump’s US is trying to impose its hardline stance on the rest of the world.
This morning Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry on the Today programme was rightly highlighting grave concerns about the US President’s personal behaviour towards and language about women, but this is an even bigger issue. It impacts women and girls all around the world.
That’s one of the reasons why I’m delighted Caroline Lucas will be speaking today at the protests against the US President.
But it is important to acknowledge too that on the issue of abortion in particular, the UK has a problem in challenging the US President on this issue. The problem is our own unjust, torturous treatment of women in Northern Ireland.
For women there do not have the same rights as women in Wales, Scotland and England – a discrepancy not fit for politics in 2019.
Abortions in Northern Ireland are only permitted where the pregnant woman’s life is endangered or where the pregnancy presents a serious long-term or permanent risk to the woman’s health. However, what this actually means is not clear and the guidance for medical professions remains inadequate so that many doctors, under the threat of prosecution themselves, find themselves forced to interpret the law in the strictest sense and will not approve the provision of abortion services.
Healthcare professionals face criminal prosecution not only if they carry out an unlawful abortion, but also if they fail to report unlawful abortions, including where women attend hospital seeking treatment after taking abortion pills. Their doctors, nurses and midwives face the threat of prosecution for not reporting that woman to the police. Only 12 women were able to legally access an abortion in Northern Ireland last year, while over 900 were forced to go to England to access the procedures they needed.
Women in crisis pregnancies in Northern Ireland face the choice of travelling to other parts of the UK, leaving the place where they have a support network or, if they cannot afford to travel, face the risk of prosecution if they buy abortion pills online. In 2016, a 21-year-old woman was reported to the police by her housemates and received a one-year suspended sentence for taking abortion pills to end her pregnancy. In an ongoing case, a mother who obtained abortion pills for her 15-year-old daughter is challenging her prosecution and faces a sentence of up to 10 years if she is found guilty of the offence of procuring and supplying the pills to her daughter. Carrying out an unlawful abortion using illegally obtained abortion pills carries a maximum life sentence under the Offences against the Person Act 1861.
So, to the people on the streets of London, the speakers on the platform and many people protesting in other cities around the country, I say this is an opportunity.
It is a chance to send support and acknowledgement to the women and men in the US fighting against Trumpist attempts to take control of women’s bodies. (It’s great news that some of the money raised by the Trump baby team, flying the blimp over London today, is to go to women’s rights groups in the US and UK.)
To take on the forces of rightwing populism we need to unite and work together, and that’s something the Trump visit is certainly helping with.
And it is a chance to take a look at ourselves and say in one part of the UK, we are not so very different. That is a situation that should not be allowed to continue.