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Health proposal to cover unborn draws fire from abortion advocates

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Bush administration’s decision to permit health-care insurance for preborn children has drawn criticism from abortion-rights advocates.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced Jan. 31 it would issue a proposed rule that allows states to provide coverage to low-income pregnant women for their unborn children. The regulation would enable states to extend to pregnant women and their babies the use of funds already available under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Coverage under SCHIP now is permitted for children age 19 and under. The new rule would clarify coverage encompassing children from conception to age 19.

Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, called the proposed regulation the administration’s “latest ploy in its ongoing stealth campaign to have government make abortions illegal. The Bush administration’s latest proposal demonstrates its commitment to the strategy of undermining a woman’s right to choose by ascribing legal rights to embryos.”

Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the proposal “effectively relegates women to second-class status.”

“This move is inflammatory, unnecessary and simply un-American,” said Feldt, who said PPFA supports government-funded coverage for pregnant women. “If their goal was really about expanding access, they’d say, ‘We’re going to cover more pregnant women.’ But their goal isn’t expanding access to health care; it’s about redefining ‘child’ to limit the rights of women to make their own childbearing choices.”

Pro-life advocates, however, criticized the attacks from abortion-rights supporters.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said every person “who truly cares about children and their mothers should applaud and support” the proposed regulation.

“The hue and cry from the pro-abortion factions reveals that their major concern has never been pregnant mothers but the right to abort unborn children,” Land said.

The complaints by abortion-rights advocates that the new rule “will somehow undermine the Roe v. Wade decision by establishing the legal status of personhood for unborn babies speaks louder than any words of concern for the plight of expectant mothers in diminished economic circumstances,” Land said. “This is a bold and courageous move by the Bush administration and will significantly improve the health and lives of tens of thousands of expectant mothers and their unborn children.”

Cathleen Cleaver, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the opposition of pro-choice organizations “is seriously misguided.”

“Denying low-income women access to state-insured prenatal care in the name of abortion is senseless,” Cleaver said in a written statement. “To deny certain children assistance until they are born is a form of discrimination that should not be countenanced. Allowing states to provide health coverage to low-income pregnant women and their developing children is the only wise and compassionate approach.”

While the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion throughout pregnancy, unborn children have gained some legal standing in recent years.

Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, told CNSNews.com, “There is already a substantial amount of state law and some federal law that recognizes unborn children as legal members of the human family for different purposes. The Supreme Court has decreed that it doesn’t apply in the abortion context, but they never said that the government can’t recognize the reality of unborn children for other purposes.”

HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said in a written release announcing the proposal, “While Medicaid already provides prenatal care for many low-income women, there are still tens of thousands every year who are not eligible under current regulations until after their child is born or who may even then not qualify under Medicaid even though their child will indeed qualify under SCHIP. Prenatal care for women and their babies is a crucial part of the medical care every person should have through the course of their life cycle.”

Under the proposal, states would only be permitted, not required, to expand coverage to preborn children. The process that would conclude with publication of the final rule could be finished this spring, Thompson said.