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White House finalizes health coverage for unborn children despite criticism

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Bush administration has finalized its decision to permit healthcare insurance for unborn children.

Tommy Thompson, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, issued the new rule that allows states to provide coverage to low-income, pregnant women for their preborn children. The regulation, which will be published in the Federal Register Oct. 2, enables 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 previously has been permitted for children age 19 and under. The new rule clarifies the coverage encompasses children from conception to age 19.

“This is a common-sense, compassionate measure to make sure that all children born in this country come into the world as healthy as possible,” Thompson said in a written release announcing the rule’s issuance. “It’s another way to secure a safety net of care for our children and their mothers.”

Pro-choice organizations, however, charged the Bush administration with seeking to undermine abortion rights. Some groups criticized the White House when the rule was proposed in January and again when it was issued Sept. 27.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America said it supports prenatal care for women but said the administration is using the SCHIP as “a weapon against women.”

“If there was ever any doubt about the Bush administration’s real intent to attack women’s reproductive rights, there’s no question now. This measure reduces women to incubators, elevates the status of the fetus above that of the woman,” PPFA President Gloria Feldt said in a written statement Sept. 27.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, applauded the regulation and said the reaction of Planned Parenthood and others reveals “their major concern has never been pregnant mothers but the right to abort unborn children.”

Their complaints that the new regulation “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.

Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee expressed some doubt about the new rule’s future in some states. The next question is, NRLC’s legislative director said, “Will pro-abortion politicians in some states cave in to pressure from pro-abortion groups who insist there is no such thing as an unborn child and so deny this aid to mothers and their babies?”

The regulation, which permits but does not require states to provide such coverage, is designed to speed up the SCHIP process for pregnant women and their children. In the past, states have been required to request a waiver in order to use SCHIP funds to cover unborn children, according to HHS. The rule also enables benefits to be extended regardless of a mother’s immigration status.

SCHIP was authorized to receive $40 billion for 10 years when it was enacted in 1997. Under the program, about 70 percent of spending by the states is provided by the federal government. Although all 50 states operate such programs, substantial portions of the available funds are still unused, according to HHS.