WASHINGTON (May 7, 2002) – The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has expressed support for regulatory changes proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services to increase access to prenatal care for low-income pregnant women and their unborn children.
In a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the USCCB General Counsel, Mark E. Chopko, and Associate General Counsel, Michael F. Moses, supported the department's Proposed Rule on Eligibility for Prenatal Care for Unborn Children under the State Children's Program.
"Our support for the Proposed Rule is based on the importance of ensuring adequate health care for children, both before and after birth, and their mothers," they wrote. "The Proposed Rule serves this important goal, reflects the medical reality that the life of a child begins before birth at conception, and is thoroughly consistent with precedent according legal significance to, and protecting, the life of the unborn child."
The USCCB officials also urged HHS to clarify in the final rule that the unborn children of immigrant women would be eligible for coverage under the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
SCHIP was created in 1997 to expand access to health care for low income children under 19 years of age. Over the past decade, recognizing that ensuring a child's well-being is an undertaking that begins before birth, states and the federal government have sought ways to extend health coverage through both the Medicaid and SCHIP programs. Several bills to amend SCHIP have been introduced in Congress. The Administration has proposed using its rulemaking authority to clarify that the regulatory definition of a child eligible for SCHIP coverage includes children "under the age of 19 including the period from conception to birth," thereby giving States the option to provide prenatal health care coverage under SCHIP to unborn children and their mothers.
"The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops believes that every human being has the right to quality health services, regardless of age, income, illness or condition of life, and has long supported access to prenatal care for pregnant women and their babies,"the USCCB officials said. "As the Conference wrote in its 1991 document, Putting Children and Families First: 'Beginning with our children and their mothers, we must extend access to quality health care to all our people. Quality and accessible prenatal care is essential for healthy children.'"
"Unfortunately, some organizations with a political agenda regarding other issues affecting prenatal life have chosen to view the Proposed Rule through the lens of those issues and therefore greeted it with suspicion," the letter said. "It is far too late in the history of law and medicine to turn back the clock and urge our government to deny the reality of the patient in the womb-especially at the cost of sacrificing the health and well-being of both women and their unborn children."