The Bush administration announced plans Thursday to extend government-funded health care, via the States Children Health Insurance Program (CHIP), to fetuses. This would mark the first time that the government would recognized a fetus as a “person” eligible for government aid. Enacted in 1997, CHIP was designed to provide health coverage for children whose families were not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid but not financially solvent enough to afford their own health insurance. Children’s parents, including pregnant women, are not covered under CHIP.
While recognizing the importance of prenatal care for women, abortion rights supporters expressed concern over Bush’s proposal, citing the implications the move could have towards criminalizing abortion. Peter Rubin, a law professor and pro-choice supporter at Georgetown University, stated “This does not overrule Roe v Wade, but it is significant because it would for the first time put into federal law the concept that from the moment of conception, a fetus is a child. To suggest in federal law that ‘a one-cell zygote is a full human being’ does ultimately present a threat to women’s reproductive rights and not just abortion, but also contraception.”
Abortion rights supporters and others have suggested alternatives to Bush’s proposal that would still allow states to provide medical coverage to poor pregnant women, such as making it easier for states to obtain waivers from the federal government to extend CHIP coverage to pregnant women. Some states have already adopted this practice and now use CHIP funds to provide prenatal care.
“Rather than recognizing a fetus as a “person” elgible for government aid,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority. “The government should simply provide prenatal care to all CHIP-eligible women. In doing so, this will ensure that women, and their developing fetuses, have full access to healthcare, without jeopardizing Roe v Wade.”