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HHS funds new abstinence grants, proposes coverage for unborn babies

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Department of Health and Human Services has provided $17.1 million in new grants for sexual abstinence programs in communities.

The department also is proposing a new policy that would provide medical coverage for unborn children under a HHS program, according to a news report.

The developments were welcomed by most pro-lifers and evangelical Christians even as they await with some apprehension a decision on a critical issue regarding unborn babies. The Bush administration has yet to announce whether it will allow funding of stem-cell research that involves the destruction of human embryos.

A decision on funding for embryonic stem-cell research is expected in July. While medical researchers and patient advocacy groups are lobbying for federal funds for such research, pro-life organizations, including the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, are calling for the denial of such funding because procurement of the cells from early human embryos ends their lives.

Though Bush has said he opposes research that involves the destruction of embryos, it appears possible his decision on stem-cell research will not adhere to that position. High-ranking officials in the administration are split over whether to allow funding for such research, according to news reports.

The new abstinence grants will aid nearly 50 communities in establishing and implementing programs for 12 to 18 year olds. In addition to health departments, public schools and various community groups, grant recipients include several abstinence-only, religious and pro-life groups, as well as crisis pregnancy centers, including: AAA Women’s Services, Chattanooga, Tenn.; Mid-South Christian Ministries, West Memphis, Ark.; Roseland Christian Health Ministries, Chicago; Crisis Pregnancy Centers of Greater Phoenix, Phoenix; Tri-county Right to Life Education Foundation, Springfield, Ohio; Worth the Wait, Pampa, Texas, and the Catholic Charities of Forth Worth, Texas, and Buffalo and Syracuse, N.Y.

The grants, which were announced July 6, are in addition to $50 million provided yearly through another HHS program, the Abstinence Education Formula Block Grant Program. That program, established by the 1996 welfare reform law, distributes funds to the states, which must provide $3 in funds for every $4 granted in federal funds. The new community grants do not require matching funds.

HHS has proposed a new policy that would permit states to define an unborn baby as a person eligible for medical coverage, The New York Times reported July 6. A draft letter has been sent to state health officials saying HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson desires for unborn children to qualify for coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program, according to the report.

The change would permit states to cover pregnant women who are ineligible for Medicaid or CHIP, thereby increasing coverage for prenatal care and deliveries, officials said, according to The Times.

Abortion rights organizations criticized the proposal, calling it an attempt to advance the pro-life cause. “This is a transparent ploy to undermine birth control and abortion rights by granting ‘personhood’ to embryos and fetuses,” said Kim Gandy, president-elect of the National Organization for Women.

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