The state of Nebraska passed numerous controversial reproductive health bills during the 2010 legislative session, but none caused quite the debate of the decision to end prenatal care for undocumented women in the state.
For a legislature and governor that were priding themselves on their “pro-life” stances, to cut any form of prenatal care should have been unheard of. But when the state was informed that they could no longer continue coverage for a large group of low-income women, including those who were in the country illegally, the legislature refused to act to extend the coverage, knowing that they did not have enough support to override a veto from the governor.
Now, as a result of the cuts, rates of stillbirth and infant death has risen, and much of it can be traced directly to the lack of prenatal care.
Via the Omaha World Herald:
One of the most controversial issues of the year — whether illegal immigrants should get government-paid prenatal care — will be debated again in 2011 by the Nebraska Legislature.
That was the word from three lawmakers after hearing reports Friday that four stillbirths and one premature death had occurred since the state decided to end prenatal services for such women.
Charity health-care facilities in Omaha and Columbus also said they have been overwhelmed since the prenatal coverage was dropped.
“This is not an immigration issue, this is about the health and well-being of our children,” said State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha.
About a year ago, federal Medicaid officials informed Nebraska that it had to change or drop its decades-long policy of providing government-paid prenatal care because it was being done improperly.
The state restored the care for some women, but about 1,600 low-income women lost the coverage March 1, including 840 who were in the country illegally.
Rebecca Rayman of the Good Neighbor Community Health Center in Columbus said her clinic has seen four stillbirths since March, after having none in the previous six years.
“Only God knows” whether all those deaths were attributable to the lack of prenatal care, Rayman said. She believes at least one of the stillbirths was.
Two emergency births took place at a South Omaha clinic because women were afraid of the high costs they might incur if they went to a hospital.
One of the infants was delivered at 20 weeks and died, said Andrea Skolkin of OneWorld Community Health Centers. The infant’s mother had received no prenatal care.
Governor Heineman refused to allow the state to cover care under fear of “providing comfort” to people in the country illegally. But those children will be citizens once they are born, regardless of their health, and the lack of prenatal care subjects them to short term and life long health issues that would be an even greater burden to the state. Or, even worse, those children simply won’t survive.
Now that the real life consequences of the vote are obvious, revisiting the issue in the 2011 legislature will force Nebraska politicians to prove what really matters more to them — helping children be healthy, or punishing them for who their parents are.