Latina Institute Applauds Move to Restore Care for Undocumented Pregnant Women, Warns Against Troubling Rhetoric

On Wednesday, Nebraska lawmakers voted to override the governor’s veto when they restored funding for maternity care for undocumented women—based on the premise that while a pregnant woman herself is ineligible for benefits, the fetus she carries can be enrolled in public health insurance.“This is a good policy with a bad justification. We support programs that extend care to all pregnant women, including undocumented women,” said Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH). “However, the rationale for such programs ought to be to promote healthy women, healthy pregnancies, and healthy children. To unnaturally separate the health of a fetus from the health of the woman who carries it is dehumanizing and out of touch with the reality of women’s lives.”Prior to a 2010 policy change, undocumented pregnant women could receive coverage for pregnancy-related health services under Medicaid. The new legislation was created to restore that coverage by providing care through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a program that give states the option to “enroll” fetuses (who will presumably be born US citizens). The Nebraska bill, which received a 30-16 vote in the veto override, specifies that the pregnancy care covered through the CHIP program is for “unborn children, whose eligibility is independent of the mother’s eligibility status.”“We applaud the restoration of funding for pregnancy-related care,” said González-Rojas, “But the language used in this legislation is a dangerous development for immigrant women’s health and human dignity.”Immigrant women currently face numerous barriers to accessing the care that they need, and these barriers lead to disproportionate negative health outcomes that affect entire families. Immigrant women deserve to access prenatal care as a matter of basic human rights and dignity, and their characterization in the debate surrounding the Nebraska legislation as mere vessels is inhumane and deeply disturbing. NLIRH will continue to work with lawmakers to craft legislation that rightly places women at the center of health policy, because we know that women are often the backbone of our families and communities.

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