Imagine preparing to board a flight only to be told that in order to proceed, you are required to take a pregnancy test. If it turns out that you are pregnant, you won’t be allowed on the plane at all. This scenario sounds borderline dystopian. But no, this is not an episode of Black Mirror — this really happened. For one woman, the so-called birth tourism law prevented her from boarding a flight, and now she's telling her story.
In a November op-ed, 25-year-old Midori Nishida recounted her experience of being asked to take a pregnancy test before getting on her flight to Saipan — a United States territory in the Western Pacific where she had lived for 18 years (she now resides in Tokyo).
“Despite being a frequent flier to Saipan, none of my previous experience would have prepared me for what happened during my most recent flight: Take a pregnancy test or be denied boarding,” she wrote. In her op-ed, Nishida explained that the airline asked her to fill out a mandatory questionnaire confirming that she wasn’t pregnant. Then, she was “randomly” picked to participate in a “fit-to-fly” medical assessment for potentially pregnant women traveling.
Nishida said she tried to clarify that the test was administered to random women passengers but details having to sign a medical records release form before realizing that wasn't exactly the case. “Upon closer examination of the form, it was evident that I was not randomly chosen based on the following statement: ‘In our routine initial safety assessment by our ground handling staff, we have reasonable suspicion on the health condition of the passenger above. The passenger has been observed to have a body size/shape resembling to a pregnant lady’,” she wrote.
Ultimately, Nishida took a pregnancy test, which came out negative, and she was finally given a boarding pass to get on her flight. The airline carrier, Hong Kong Express Airways Limited, has since issued an apology and has reportedly suspended its pregnancy testing practice, according to The New York Times. But this issue is far from over.
Last week, news broke that the Trump administration is employing a travel restriction known as birth tourism. The new objective would make it harder for pregnant individuals from other countries to obtain tourist visas to travel to the U.S. But, this development is unsurprising given the administration’s previous hard-line policies on immigration, including travel bans and stricter rules within the asylum system. Ahead, we've detailed what birth tourism means and how it will impact pregnant travelers.
What is birth tourism?
Birth tourism is technically defined as a pregnant person's decision to travel to another country for the specific reason of giving birth in that country and hoping to gain citizenship. Right now, there is no restriction on flying while pregnant to the U.S., but customs officers are technically allowed to deny entry into the country if they suspect a pregnant person is intentionally traveling to give birth for the purpose of gaining citizenship. Now, the Trump administration wants to take this suspicion one step further by allowing administered pregnancy tests at the border, which could potentially ban any pregnant person from another country to enter the U.S.
Who is affected by birth tourism laws?
The birth tourism law would directly impact all pregnant women travling to the U.S. from other countries and non-U.S. territories. The proposed guidance currently in consideration at the U.S. State Department would require that anyone looking to come to the U.S. on a tourist visa while they could give birth would be tasked with “convincing a consular officer they have another legitimate reason to come to the U.S.”
But the new rule won’t be the same for everyone. Citizens of 39 mostly-Western countries — a majority of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Brunei, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea — don’t usually need a B visa (aka the tourist visa) to come to the U.S. for less than 90 days. So, they aren’t likely to be affected. But it’s worth noting all of the countries not included in that list, and the areas of the world they represent.
What other places have birth tourism laws?
Trump has previously claimed that the U.S. is the “only country” that provides birthright citizenship, but he’s lying about that one. According to The Atlantic, more than 30 countries have a similar birthright citizenship law that is largely unconditional, "save for exceptions like the children of foreign diplomats." Many of these countries are in the Western Hemisphere. Canada, for example, generally grants citizenship at birth to anyone born in Canada, regardless of the citizenship or immigration status of their parents.