(CNSNews.com) - The Bush administration Thursday reclassified fetuses to the status of "unborn children," making them eligible for government health care.
The decision gives low-income women access to prenatal care, but abortion rights advocates believe the decision could be a step closer to overturning the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
The plan will make "unborn children" eligible for health care under the State Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CHIP had previously been established for kids and did not typically cover parents or pregnant women.
"Prenatal care for women and their babies is a crucial part of the medical care every person should have through the course of their life cycle," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. "Prenatal services can be a vital, lifelong determinant of health, and we should do everything we can to make this care available for all pregnant women."
Pro-life advocates were elated with the news.
"We applaud this Bush administration proposal to recognize the existence of an unborn child in order to allow the baby, and the mother as well, to receive adequate pre-natal care," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of National Right to Life. "We think this is a proposal to which only the most extreme pro-abortion ideologues will object."
Genevieve Wood, spokesperson for the Family Research Council, said pro-lifers should applaud President Bush and Secretary Thompson for "righting what has been a past wrong."
She also said that groups, who usually support legalized abortion, should accept the new classification in the spirit of being "pro-woman."
"I think it would be shameful for pro-abortion advocates to oppose this policy for the single purpose of staking out political ground, and that is what is going on here," Wood said. "Our public health care agency shouldn't discriminate against pregnant women and their unborn children.
"Anyone who is pro-women and pro-children certainly ought to want to extend healthcare benefits to them as we do with all other Americans," she said.
Abortion rights advocates believe the decision could lead to a 'slippery slope' - that is, the establishment of a fetus as a person with legal standing therefore could make abortion a crime.
"If they're interested in covering pregnant women, why don't they talk about pregnant women?" asked Laurie Rubiner of the National Partnership for Women and Families. "I just have to believe their hidden agenda is to extend personhood to a fetus."
Johnson said the Bush administration's new classification isn't the first of its kind, and no other rules that give "unborn children" legal status have ever affected the legality of abortion.
"There is already a substantial amount of state law and some federal law that recognizes unborn children as legal members of the human family for different purposes," he said.
"The Supreme Court has decreed that it doesn't apply in the abortion context, but they never said that the government can't recognize the reality of unborn children for other purposes," Johnson added.
"It makes no sense that if a woman shows up at a clinic and says she wants her child to be covered, and [the health care provider says], 'You don't have a child yet. You're pregnant, but you don't have child. Come back after you give birth and we will give you medical care,'" he said.
Edward Szymkowiak, spokesman at the American Life League, said the new regulation shows that the country is "schizophrenic," because on the one hand, an "unborn child" is eligible for health insurance, but on the other, a fetus can be aborted.
Szymkowiak added that he hopes the rule will lead to a 'slippery slope' and the ridding of legal abortion in the U.S.
"Hopefully this would set a precedent that if the regulation clarifies the definition of the child to include the unborn child, what does this say about abortion in this country?" Szymkowiak asked. "You would hope this would be a step in the right direction to carry things further, but you never know with the Bush administration.
"It hasn't taken all the steps it could in the past to protect human life so I am hopeful something will come of this," he said.
CNSNews.com Evening Editor Melanie Hunter contributed to this report.
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