- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 28, 2002

The Bush administration said yesterday it would classify fetuses as unborn children as a way of providing more low-income women with prenatal care.
The change came in the form of a new regulation issued by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson. It would allow states to provide health care coverage to unborn children and thus to pregnant women under the state Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
The regulation also would allow states to provide this coverage regardless of the pregnant woman's immigration status, meaning that illegal immigrant women who are pregnant could receive prenatal and delivery care.
Mr. Thompson called it a "common-sense, compassionate" proposal.
"Prenatal care is one of the most important investments that we can make to ensure the long-term good health of our children and their mothers," he said. "It's the right thing to do for the child and the mother."
But pro-choice groups said it is simply a way to give rights to the unborn and consequently undermine abortion rights.
Elizabeth Cavendish, legal director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, said the administration's goal is "establishing that embryos are persons under the law."
"What they're trying to do with this is not so much promote comprehensive health care for uninsured people, but to make a political statement about embryonic personhood," she said.
Mr. Thompson dismissed that. "This is not an abortion issue, this is a health issue," he said. "It's a health issue for the child. This is just taking care of poor mothers and poor children who need this help."
The new regulation was originally proposed at the beginning of the year. The final regulation will be published in the federal registry on Oct. 2 and will go into effect 30 days later.
Essentially, it would change the program's definition of a child. Currently SCHIP allows states to provide medical assistance for low-income children younger than 19. The regulation would allow states to extend program coverage to low-income children from conception to age 19, which would open it up to pregnant women.
States already may ask HHS for a waiver to cover pregnant women under SCHIP New Jersey and Rhode Island currently do so but the change would provide a faster way to provide that coverage.
"With this new regulation, states can offer prenatal coverage immediately without waiting for HHS to consider and approve a waiver," Mr. Thompson said.
But Laurie Rubiner of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said because the regulation is aimed at the medical needs of the fetus, it may not cover pain medication for the woman, medical attention if she breaks her leg during the pregnancy, or any of her needs once the baby is born.
"They have chosen instead to provide coverage to the fetus. That's not the same as providing coverage to the woman," she said, adding that the effort is a "back door way of promoting their anti-choice agenda."
She also said that by extending the benefit regardless of the mother's immigration status the administration was "trying to court the Hispanic vote."
HHS spokesman Bill Pierce said making unborn children of immigrants eligible for the benefit under the new regulation was only logical, because children born in the United States automatically become citizens even if their parents are illegal immigrants.
This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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