Bush Pushes for Fetal Insurance

ByABC News
July 6, 2001, 5:36 PM

W A S H I N G T O N, July 6 -- The Bush administration is poised to classifya developing fetus as an "unborn child" eligible for governmenthealth care, giving low-income women access to prenatal care whilebolstering the administration's anti-abortion rights credentials.

Abortion rights advocates call it a backdoor attempt toundermine Roe vs. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision thatguaranteed the right to legal abortion.

The plan, now under review, would make the fetus eligible forservices under the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

Specifically, states could consider a fetus "a targetedlow-income child" and therefore pay for prenatal care and childbirth expenses, according to a draft letter now being reviewed byHealth and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

"It is well established that access to prenatal care canimprove health outcomes over a child's life," says the letter tostate health officials from Dennis Smith, director of the Centerfor Medicaid and State Operations at HHS.

Two-Sided Debate

Abortion rights advocates countered that it's not the fetus thatis served by prenatal care but the mother.

"This is the most cynical of politics, and once again, theadministration trying desperately to satisfy the demands of the farright wing," said Kate Michelman, president of the NationalAbortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

She added that the policy seems to be an attempt to set aprecedent establishing the fetus as a person under law, "leadingto the criminalization of all abortions."

She and others said they, too, want to provide more prenatalcare, and encouraged the Bush administration to support legislationexpanding the children's health program to pregnant women. Rep.Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said she would reintroduce legislation doingjust that next week.

Meanwhile, the National Governors Association warned HHS thatwhile some states will embrace the new option and some willimmediately reject it, other states will face divisive battles overwhether to go along.