Religious, Women's Health, Rights Organizations Declare Opposition to SCHIP Extension to Fetuses

May 7, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — A wide range of religious and women’s health and rights organizations has expressed strong opposition to the Department of Health and Human Services’ proposal to extend health insurance to embryos and fetuses instead of pregnant women.

The proposed regulation would redefine “child” in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to include “unborn children” from conception through birth, raising serious legal, ethical, and health questions. The closing date for comments on the regulation was today, May 6.

The organizations include:

Religious and Religiously Affiliated
General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church
Presbyterian Church (USA)
The Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative Judaism)
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
Unitarian Universalist Association
United Church of Christ
Women of Reform Judaism, representing 100,000 women in 600 sisterhoods
American Humanist Association
Disciples for Choice, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
National Council of Jewish Women, representing 90,000 members and supporters
New York Metro, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
Women’s Rights and Health
American Civil Liberties Union, with 300,000 members
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, with over 43,000 members
Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, representing 2,500 health professionals
Center for Reproductive Law and Policy
National Abortion Federation, representing over 400 member facilities in 48 states
National Council of Women’s Organizations, over 100 organizations representing more than six million women
National Health Law Program
National Partnership for Women and Families
People For the American Way, more than 500,000 members and supporters
Voters for Choice

While supporting expansion of comprehensive prenatal care to low-income pregnant women, the organizations oppose the SCHIP proposal as the wrong approach to accomplishing this important goal. They point out the regulation will bypass women’s health needs and create an artificial distinction between care for fetuses and care for pregnant women. In addition, many groups are concerned the regulation lays the legal groundwork for an adversarial relationship between a woman and her fetus by defining the fetus as a person, which may then have interests distinct from and in conflict with the woman. Additionally, coverage for the fetus, not the pregnant woman, raises troubling ethical issues and could have adverse consequences for women’s health, rights, and dignity.

In a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson February 20, shortly after the regulation was proposed, 15 women’s health groups questioned the need for this rule, noting that mechanisms are already in place – both in SCHIP itself and in the Medicaid program – to extend health insurance to pregnant women. The federal government has already granted waivers to states to cover pregnant women under SCHIP, they wrote. Medicaid requires states to cover prenatal care and maternity care for women with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level – and 39 states have higher income ceilings, making even more women eligible for care. They urged support for bipartisan efforts in Congress to expand prenatal care to pregnant women.

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

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