ACLU Says Proposed Federal Regulation Undermines Reproductive Freedom

March 5, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Saying that it threatens to undermine reproductive freedom, the American Civil Liberties Union today denounced a new proposed federal health care regulation that elevates the status of the fetus under federal law and urged the Administration instead to support federal financing of prenatal care for all low-income women.

“The ability of pregnant women to receive essential prenatal care must not be held hostage to an anti-choice agenda,” said Louise Melling, Acting Director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “No regulation or law affords fetuses an independent status under federal law. Such treatment is in fundamental tension with the right of women to make their own health care decisions, including to choose abortion.”

The regulation proposed by the Bush Administration was published this morning in the Federal Register by the Department of Health and Human Services. The proposed regulation changes the definition of “child” for purposes of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to mean “an individual under the age of 19 including the period from conception to birth.” The proposal does not ensure coverage for “unborn children,” but rather permits states to provide such coverage, if they choose.

Moreover, the proposed regulation does not change the amount of money appropriated for the CHIP program. Thus, although it expands eligibility for CHIP, it does not come with added funds to cover the newly eligible fetuses. Benefits for the fetuses of low-income women would thus come at the expense of benefits for the low-income children for whom the program was designed.

“Extending prenatal care to all low-income women is absolutely essential,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office. “But additional health care services should not come at the expense of low-income children or reproductive choice.”

The ACLU urges the Administration to propose legislation that would permit states to provide prenatal coverage to all low-income women and that would appropriate additional funds for this critical care.

“If the Administration really cares about women and children, it would work with Congress to provide the coverage it claims to support, and do so more effectively, without pitting fetal rights against women’s rights,” Murphy said.

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