POLITICS
03/06/2019 08:22 BST | Updated 03/06/2019 10:39 BST

Why The Issue Of Abortion Will Be The Elephant In The Room During Donald Trump's Visit

Here's what you need to know.

Jim Watson via Getty Images
One topic is likely to come up again and again during the president’s trip – abortion.

Like almost everything Donald Trump does, the president’s state visit to the UK is sure to lead the news agenda.

Not only is the *very* vocal president set to meet Theresa May in the final days of her premiership before she resigns, but his visit is set to spark widespread protests (the infamous Donald Trump ‘baby blimp’ is reportedly set to return to the skies during his trip.)

But despite the president’s outspoken ways, there is a topic that is likely to hang over the trip without being addressed by either leader – abortion. 

This year has seen a serious assault on women’s rights in the USA, with dramatic changes made to abortion laws in several states – in one, terminations have been outlawed altogether. 

While the attack on abortion rights has sparked demonstrations in America, pro-choice activists on this side of the pond have been quick to compare the situation to that in Northern Ireland, where terminations are also almost completely banned.

As Trump’s three day visit begins, here’s everything you need to know about the situation. 

What has been happening to women’s rights in America?

Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images
Pro-choice campaigners in Washington

Anti-abortion politicians have been launching a serious assault on abortion access in recent months – the most serious effects of which have been seen in Alabama.

Earlier this month, the state’s Republican-controlled senate passed a near-total ban on abortions. And all 25 Republican senators who voted in favour of the change were men.

The change means the state now has some of America’s strictest abortion regulations, with terminations outlawed even in cases of rape or incest.

Anyone found guilty of performing an abortion could face up to 99 years or life in prison.

The law only allows exceptions to the ban if the mother’s life is seriously at risk or the foetus has a fatal complication.

The move has drawn huge outrage from pro-choice activists, with celebrities like Lady Gaga calling the decision “heinous”.

Meanwhile, US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said the move was an attempt to own women. 

“Abortion bans aren’t just about controlling women’s bodies,” she tweeted. “They’re about controlling women’s sexuality. Owning women. From limiting birth control to banning comprehensive sex ed, US religious fundamentalists are working hard to outlaw sex that falls outside their theology.”

Seven other states passed ‘heartbeat bills’ this year – which bans abortion once a foetal heartbeat can be detected. In most pregnancies, it is detectable at around six weeks – before many women even realise they could be pregnant.

States that have passed ‘heartbeat bills’ are:

  • North Dakota
  • Iowa
  • Ohio
  • Kentucky
  • Georgia
  • Missouri
  • Mississippi

Legislation to restrict abortions has been introduced or proposed in 20 other states in 2019.

What has Donald Trump been saying about it?

Trump waded into the debate earlier this month – but appeared to signal that his views were not as extreme as the changes introduced in Alabama. 

“As most people know, and for those who would like to know, I am strongly pro-life, with three exceptions – rape, incest and protecting the life of the mother – the same position taken by Ronald Reagan,” he tweeted. 

The last two years has seen the introduction of 105 new federal judges, two new Supreme Court Justices and “a whole new & positive attitude about the right to life”, Trump continued. 

“The radical left, with late term abortion (and worse) is imploding on the issue. We must stick together and win for life in 2020. If we are foolish and do not stay UNITED as one, all of our hard-fought gains for life can, and will, rapidly appear.”  

Why have people been comparing it to the UK? 

The situation in the US has drawn comparisons to Northern Ireland, where abortion is banned in almost every single situation – including in cases of rape, incest and where the foetus has a fatal abnormality. 

Under the current law, a termination can be carried out if a pregnant woman’s life is at risk. However, instances of this happening are extremely rare – in 2016/17 just 13 abortions took place in hospitals in Northern Ireland. 

Amnesty International UK has called the government’s failure to deliver abortion rights “a cruel betrayal of women”.

Meanwhile, Game of Thrones actress Sophie Turner – who recently pledged not to work in anti-abortion states – said she was glad to be leaving Northern Ireland after filming there for 10 years, for the same reason. 

“There was a lot of work of Game of Thrones there,” she told Sky News. “So luckily we’re moving on.”

Are Trump Or Theresa May likely to talk about it? 

With abortion rights dominating the news cycle in the US – and pro-choice activists pointing out the similarities to the situation in Northern Ireland – both Trump and May are likely to be quizzed about abortion during the visit. Whether either of the leaders give a straight answer is a very different issue.