- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

A fetus may be classified as an unborn child eligible for government health care under a rule change proposed to provide more low-income women with prenatal care, the Bush administration said yesterday.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson yesterday said his department will soon propose the change, which would allow states to provide health care coverage to unborn children and thus to pregnant women under the state Children's Health Insurance Program.
The change would expand the program's definition of "child." It currently allows states to provide medical assistance for low-income children younger than 19. The change would allow states to extend program coverage to children from conception to age 19, which would allow pregnant women to receive prenatal and delivery care.
Pro-choice groups criticized the announcement, saying it was a back-door attempt to give rights to the unborn and undermine abortion rights. Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, said the administration's decision "is the latest ploy in its ongoing stealth campaign to have government make abortions illegal."
She said it shows the administration's "commitment to the strategy of undermining a woman's right to choose by ascribing legal rights to embryos."
Pro-choice groups argued that the program simply should be extended to pregnant women, if that is the goal.
"If the administration really cared about women and their health, they would extend the health care to women," said Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation. "By extending the coverage to the fetus they're attempting to set a legal precedent that could be used to overturn Roe v. Wade."
Miss Saporta said the administration is "once again showing that they have no regard for women and they're more concered about placating the religious right than they are about women's health."
Others dismissed the criticism of pro-choice groups and praised the administration.
"It's just recognizing that the more care we give to the unborn child, the healthier these children will be and the better off they will be, and I don't think that's a highly controversial position to take," said John Cusey, a spokesman for Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican.
"No one could possibly object to making children eligible for participation in the program before, as well as after, birth unless he had some ulterior reason for denying the humanity of these children," said Michael Schwartz, vice president of government relations for Concerned Women for America. "Common sense tells us that children's health begins with good prenatal care."
"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," Mr. Thompson said yesterday. "Prenatal services can be a vital, lifelong determinant of health, and we should do everything we can to make this care available for all pregnant women."
Several states have asked HHS for waivers to extend the program. Six states have extended it to parents of eligible children, and two states have extended it to pregnant women, said HHS spokesman Campbell Gardett.
The proposed change will be a faster, easier way for states to extend the program to pregnant women, Mr. Gardett said.
"This is a way to extend that coverage without having to go through that waiver process," he said.
The proposed rule change must go through a period of public comment before a regulation is issued.
Mr. Gardett said it probably will go into effect sometime this spring.
In his budget next week, President Bush will ask to extend the availability of $3.2 billion in program funds that states have not yet used, according to a statement released by HHS.
The funds are set to expire in fiscal 2002 and 2003, and the extension will allow states to use the money until fiscal 2006, the statement said. Federal money pays for about 70 percent of the spending by the state programs.

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