Activists: Send Comments on 'Fetal Personhood' by May 6
April 1, 2002
As we previously reported, the Bush administration published draft regulations making embryos and fetuses eligible for medical coverage under the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which covers children from birth to the age of 19. Contrary to Bush administration claims, this regulation doesn't advance the health needs of low-income pregnant women. By making the "unborn child" the CHIP client instead of the woman, the move is clearly intended to advance the right wing's ideological notion of "fetal personhood." It is an anti-abortion ploy disguised as a health care proposal.
We are asking women's rights activists to tell the Bush administration that, while we support expanding prenatal care to all women and providing quality healthcare to all persons, we reject this move designed to ascribe legal personhood to embryos and fetuses. Please send your comments about the proposed guideline to the Bush administration by May 6, 2002. Ask the administration to develop better ways to provide prenatal coverage to more women-including encouraging states to use the existing framework to obtain "waivers" that will provide health coverage for more pregnant women.
Send one original and three copies to:
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,
Department of Health and Human Services
P.O. Box 8016
Baltimore, MD 21244-8016
Endowing a fetus with more rights than a pregnant woman is more than a back-door attempt to restrict abortion rights it's an offense to women everywhere. And as the 2002 elections approach, activists will have the opportunity to support candidates who will uphold women's rights, and to replace incumbents who won't.
The following are some talking points you may want to keep in mind while drafting your letter.
- It is imperative that the government advance and support programs, like CHIP, that provide health care coverage to the millions of uninsured. Indeed, NOW and its activists have consistently supported initiatives that aim to expand health insurance to the uninsured.
- Providing health care insurance for low-income pregnant women is the proper step to take. However, providing coverage only for fetuses as though the woman carrying the fetus did not exist represents an appalling disregard for women's health and lives. It is a transparent ploy by the Bush administration to create legal grounds for reversing women's right to abortion under Roe v. Wade.
- Through already established parameters in the CHIP program the administration has the ability to provide healthcare to pregnant women. Currently, states can apply for "waivers" that allow them to insure pregnant women. The administration should display its willingness to help uninsured, pregnant women by approving state "waivers" and enhancing this aspect of the CHIP program instead of declaring fetuses "unborn children."
- Several bipartisan bills introduced in Congress last year attempted to extend coverage to the parents of children eligible for CHIP, such as the Family Care Act of 2001, S. 1244, sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and H.R. 2630, sponsored by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.). If Bush truly wanted states to improve prenatal and delivery services for women, he would put his weight behind getting that legislation passed.
- However, Bush doesn't seem to care about improving the health and livelihood of poor women and their families. His budget last year sought to cut the Maternal and Child Health Block Grants that provide health care to women before, during and after pregnancy, and to freeze the Healthy Start program, which has been shown to reduce infant mortality and morbidity.
- The right wing has made other attempts to grant "personhood" to embryos and fetuses as a way to create grounds for reversing Roe v. Wade. In 2001, the House passed the so-called Unborn Victims of Violence Act (UVVA), which would create a separate penalty for anyone convicted of harming a fetus during commission of a federal crime, and give separate legal status to any fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus, even if the woman didn't realize she was pregnant. The Born Alive Infant Protection Act, which cleared the House by 380-15 in the 106th Congress, redefined a fetus at any stage of conception as a human being. This would grant full constitutional rights to a fetus that would clearly compete with the rights of the pregnant woman. Although the Born Alive Act did not pass the Senate, we expect renewed attempts to pass it in the 107th Congress, because abortion rights opponents want to use the issue as part of their "infanticide" rhetoric.
- Bush supports these efforts to undermine abortion rights. He declared Jan. 20 as 'National Sanctity of Human Life Day,' saying that "unborn children should be welcomed in life and protected in law." He even made a not-so-subtle comparison of legal abortion to the events of Sept. 11. Bush made a point of delivering a speech via phone to the March for Life participants on Jan. 22, the 29th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. In his remarks, Bush again stated "our nation should set a great goal" to protect unborn children "in law."