Bush administration proposes child status for fetus under new health insurance plan

Posted 6:09 p.m. Feb. 13

By Mira Katz

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – On Jan. 31 the Bush administration announced that a fetus should qualify for government-funded health insurance as a child.

The proposed program would allow states to provide health care coverage under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) for “children who are not yet born.”

This the first time a federal initiative has attempted to define childhood as beginning prior to birth.

According to the Washington Post, Bush administration officials contend that the proposal was intended purely to extend health care to more women during pregnancy.

Women’s groups and abortion rights advocates denounced the move as a ploy to create legal grounds for outlawing abortion.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said the plan to broaden eligibility for health insurance “is going to help poor mothers be able to take care of their unborn children and get the medical care they absolutely, vitally need.”

“It seems to be a very big jump to assume that it would reverse a Supreme Court decision,” said Jerome A. Barron, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University who supports abortion rights.

Until now, children from birth to age 19 were covered under the state-federal initiative that began in 1997. New Jersey and Rhode Island obtained a federal waiver, without dealing with the issue of whether a fetus was legally a child, early last year and were able to extend coverage to pregnant women.

According to the HHS press release, “The proposed regulation, to be published in the Federal Register in the coming weeks, would clarify the definition of ‘child’ under the SCHIP program.”

Bush’s initiative has concerned feminist and abortion rights leaders, who favor additional coverage to prenatal care, but stated that the administration’s proposed definition of a child at conception could establish a precedent for challenging Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling establishing abortion rights.

As reported by the Washington Post, Kate Michelman, President of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League said, “It is a legal pathway to making all abortions under all circumstances a crime. If the administration were sincere about improving healthy childbearing … it could provide state funding for pregnant women.”

“I don’t see any likelihood of a reversal of Roe v. Wade,” said Barron. “The only body that could overturn such a decision is the Supreme Court, and Rehnquist and Thomas are the only ones who oppose Roe, and they are not the majority.”

The proposed regulation will be open to public comment once it is published in the Federal Register so that changes can be made before it becomes final. The initiative does not require congressional approval.

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