Even though it might feel like it at the moment, the United States isn't the only place in the world where people are calling for strict immigration policies. In fact, discussions happening in the United Kingdom right now go beyond the policies Donald Trump has come up with: UK doctors are calling B.S. on a plan that would make moms show their passports before giving birth.
Yeah, you heard that right: The Home Office — which is the UK's immigration department, basically — wants to enforce a plan that would require a woman to present her passport before giving birth in order to prove that she has rights to the country's medical services. In the UK, the healthcare system is quite a bit different from how it is in the U.S.: everyone there has a certain basic level of healthcare coverage that is paid for through their taxes. It's called the National Health System, or the NHS. People sometimes refer to that kind of healthcare as "universal healthcare" or "socialized healthcare," because everyone who is a citizen gets a basic level of coverage.
The hospital interested in piloting the program, St George’s Hospital in London, said the major motivation for the plan was what it calls "maternity tourism," which it says is becoming an increasingly large problem in the UK. They way things are now, if a woman goes to the hospital to have a baby in the UK but she isn't a citizen, she'll eventually get charged for the costs of the services she receives. The problem as far as the government sees it, is that since these charges are billed after the baby is born and the mother is discharged, they frequently go unpaid.
In 2013, The Telegraph published a report about "birth tourism" wherein the concept was explained: women from outside the UK were flying into the country at the last possible moment before they were due to give birth. Even if they were stopped by airport guards upon arriving, the women were too far along in their pregnancies to be put back on a plane. Since childbirth is seen as "immediately necessary care," they then couldn't be denied medical care, and were therefore perceived to be benefitting from, and not paying for, NHS services.
While the focus has been on money lost — £80 million a year when it was reported back in 2013 — the root cause should not be neglected. The desperation of women from other countries (where they either could not afford medical care or did not have access to it) that would drive them to risk their health and that of their baby's to fly somewhere to give birth needs to be addressed as a public health issue. And that seems to be the view of the British Medical Association, and the Shadow Health Secretary, Jon Ashworth — who reviewed the proposed plan and told BuzzFeed that he found it “absolutely absurd.”
A representative from the British Medical Association told BuzzFeed that "a doctor’s duty is to treat the patient who’s in front of them, not to act as a border guard," and denounced such a proposal, saying it could not only negatively impact the quality of care a patient receives, but discourage them from seeking medical care in the first place.
The idea behind a routine, across the board, plan to have every woman present photo ID and proof of citizenship is so that the Home Office couldn't find themselves in the midst of discrimination claims, according to documents from the hospital's trust.
The hospital involved with the pilot as well as the NHS maintain that the plan is still in the proposal stage, and that a definitive decision that would require women to present their passport before giving birth has yet to be made.