Today, President Trump became the first sitting president in history to attend the March for Life, arguably the largest and most well-known anti-abortion event in the country. Ironically, the president’s in-person appearance coincides with the enforcement of a new, decidedly anti-women, anti-child policy that makes it more difficult for pregnant women to travel to the U.S. The goal of the new policy is to stop individuals from taking advantage of the United States’ "birthright citizenship" clause in the Constitution, which gives those babies born on U.S. soil all the rights guarnteed to citizens.
At US #MarchforLife Trump addressed mothers in the audience as “heroes”.— Kate Cahoon (@katecahoon) January 24, 2020
Mothers should be parents by CHOICE. Anti-abortion laws don’t stop abortions, they result in forced births, stigma & thousands of deaths per year.
There’s nothing pro-life about it.https://t.co/DdkMx7wEOy
This latest regulation gives the government power to deny visas to women if officials have reason to believe they are traveling to the U.S. solely for the purpose of giving birth. According to reporting by the Associated Press, the United States has been attempting to stop “birth tourism” — a practice in which mothers pay companies to facilitate their travel and accomodations so that they can give birth in the U.S. — since before Trump took office. Ultimately, however, the practice is legal, though it has been discouraged.
The State Department's description of the new rule says it "will help eliminate the criminal activity associated with the birth tourism industry," mostly referring to fraud or lying to consular officers. However, Trump's anti-immigration language seems to reveal that he has conflated "birth tourism" with what the Trump administration calls “anchor babies,” a term staunch anti-immigration folks (like Trump) tend to use in reference to families who enter the country illegally, attempting to use their children as a path to gain legal residence and public benefits.
However, according to the Pew Research Center, 90% of children of undocumented immigrants were born at least two years after their parents arrived, meaning that they didn’t use their children as “anchors” to stay in America. Further, Trump's attempt to stop birthright citizenship (which would require changes to the Constitution) would not stop children of undocumented immigrants from being born in the United States.
As for the new rule, how exactly it would be enforced is unclear. Officials are not allowed to ask all female applicants if they’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, and there has to be a specific reason for the topic to be brought up in the first place, such as if the applicant says they’re traveling for a medical procedure. They aren’t allowed to require a pregnancy test, but the State Department did not deny that officials could use “visible cues” to discern whether a woman is pregnant and introduce the line of questioning. (Popular British writer and blogger Pandora Sykes recently alluded to a similar line of “creepy” questioning which took place while she was traveling, even before the policy was enacted.) Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, told CNN it puts consular officers in the "very awkward position of having to decide whether or not they believe someone is imminently going to give birth.”
According to The New York Times, it was already common for officers to decline visas for women they believed were coming to the U.S. to give birth, but Trump’s rule is overtly against “birth tourism” as a reason to come into the country, and gives officers even more authority to reject pregnant women.
The consequences of this rule, however, are literally life and death, as some mothers travel seeking better healthcare than they could find in their home country, according to reporting by Vox. A State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Vox: “People will die because of this.”
It’s a baffling paradox for the president: How do you create regulations from which women and babies could die on the day you celebrate being pro-life?
Halting birthright citizenship has been a goal of White House senior advisor Stephen Miller, the Vox report says. Previously, Miller has promoted white nationalist stories and content in leaked emails, pushed racist anti-immigration narratives, and is a driving force behind Trump’s family separation policy. As of February 2019, U.S. officials still have no idea how many children were separated from their parents between late 2017 and 2018, when the administration was enacting it’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
The administration literally lost children as a result of Miller’s agenda. But they did track periods: Scott Lloyd, former head of refugee resettlement at the height of the children separation, had twenty-eight pages detailing pregnancies, reason for the pregnancy, and periods of teenage migrant girls in their custody. “It’s almost certainly an attempt to bar them from getting abortions,” reads a report from Harper’s Bazaar.
The Trump administration’s fixation on the pregnancies and bodies of immigrant women has been a staple of the policies the president has attempted to enact to fulfill his campaign promises. As The Guardian reports, the Trump administration also turned down vulnerable, pregnant women coming over the United States-Mexico border as part of a crackdown on immigration. The new regulations are another means of reproductive policing that’s been a cornerstone of the Trump administration’s approach to women and immigration.
The timing of this new policy and his appearance at the anti-abortion rally make it seem as if the president is attempting to make good on promises he made while campaigning, and he's got two urgent reasons for that: A looming election he'd probably like to win, and a looming impeachment he'd probably like to go away. He still has a long way to go on some of his campaign promises (for example, federal debt has increased, and he promised to eliminate it), but when it comes to promises he made to chip away at a woman's federally protected right to choose, he’s been making progres. Trump nominated anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court who have lengthy records of opposing abortion; he signed legislation allowing states to remove Title X funding from Planned Parenthood (causing Planned Parenthood to leave the Title X family planning program); and his Global Gag Rule halted international aid to groups that educate communities about safe abortion, even though they don’t use their United States funding for anything abortion-related.