ACLU Criticizes Bush Administration for Providing Prenatal Care Through Anti-Choice Measure in New Health Insurance Regulation

September 27, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today criticized a federal regulation set for publication in the Federal Register on October 2 that extends children’s health insurance to fetuses as an unnecessary attack on reproductive freedom.

“The ACLU strongly supports programs that provide prenatal care to low-income women, including all immigrant women. But the Administration could easily have ensured this much-needed care without undermining reproductive freedom,” said Louise Melling, Associate Director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “Instead, it chose to create an independent status for fetuses under federal law that is in fundamental tension with abortion rights.”

The regulation changes the definition of “child” in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to mean “an individual under the age of 19 including the period from conception to birth.” According to the preamble, the coverage can now also extend to the fetuses of immigrant women, even if the women would themselves be ineligible to receive benefits under existing federal laws.

The new regulation does not require coverage for fetuses, but instead permits states to expand SCHIP to provide such coverage. It also does not change the amount of money appropriated for the program. Consequently, new benefits will inevitably come at the expense of low-income children for whom the program was originally designed, the ACLU said.

“While the regulation does not perpetuate the discrimination against immigrants that has plagued other government programs,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington National Office, “it is nonetheless fundamentally flawed. The ability of low-income women to receive prenatal care should not come at the expense of low-income children or reproductive choice.”

In its initial comments on the regulation, the ACLU urged the Administration to scrap the regulation and instead to propose legislation that would permit states to provide prenatal care to all low-income pregnant women, that would appropriate additional funds for this care and that would not undermine a woman’s right to choose abortion.

“Unfortunately, the Administration ignored our pleas to put their anti-choice agenda aside and to provide comprehensive care to low-income pregnant women,” Murphy said.

The ACLU’s comments on the SCHIP measure can be found at:

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