Population Politics: Reproductive Rights and U.S. Asylum Policy

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Georgetown Immigration Law Review

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Geo. Immigr. L.J.


Section 601 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 amends the Immigration and Nationality Act by specifically extending protection under U.S. asylum law to individuals subjected to involuntary abortion, sterilization, or other coercive population control programs. This amendment raises issues about the scope of reproductive rights violations which may establish eligibility for asylum. International law recognizes reproductive choice as a basic human right that includes the right of an individual to determine the number and spacing of children. Violation of this right can occur when a government limits reproduction or denies access to contraception or family planning services. To be consistent with these human rights principles, coercion under Section 601 should not be so narrowly defined as to be limited to actions such as forced abortion or sterilization. It should include any program that substantially prevents the exercise of reproductive choice. This article examines which government practices should be considered coercive population control programs. It analyzes the international protection of reproductive rights and discusses how population control programs may violate reproductive rights. While the new law laudably authorizes grounds for asylum that were categorically denied by the INS and the courts prior to the amendment, the article argues that both the language and current application of Section 601 are inconsistent with human rights principles.

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