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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 11:43 GMT
Foetus definition stirs abortion row
Anti-abortionists say the move represents a victory
The Bush administration has fuelled the abortion debate in the United States with a plan to define foetuses as "unborn children".

The US Government said the proposals would make foetuses eligible for public health care programmes from the moment of conception.

Even first trimester abortion becomes murder, and the Bush administration knows that

Kim Gandy,
National Organization for Women
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said the decision had nothing to do with abortion and denied it meant a redefinition of the status of unborn babies.

However, anti-abortion activists were quick to claim the move as a victory for them, while pro-choice groups said the decision could make it easier to outlaw abortion.

Pro-choice supporters fear that President George W Bush - who opposes abortion in most cases - could seek to erode abortion rights established by the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v Wade ruling in 1973.

Last week, Mr Bush lent his support to an anti-abortionist rally in Washington, describing the march as "inspired".

Decision applauded

"All we are doing is providing care for poor mothers so their children are going to be born healthy," Mr Thompson said.

Tommy Thompson, health and human services secretary
Thompson: "Not a new legal status for the foetus"
"How can anybody now turn this into a pro-choice or pro-life argument."

But Lou Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition said the decision would strengthen the pro-life campaign.

"It is significant when a multibillion-dollar department takes this position," he said.

The National Right to Life Committee also welcomed the move.

"We applaud this Bush Administration proposal to recognise the existence of an unborn child in order to allow the baby, and the mother as well, to receive adequate pre-natal care - a concept to which only the most extreme pro-abortion ideologues will object," Douglas Johnson, legislative director for group said.

Women 'relegated'

Pro-choice advocates and women's groups said the law already allowed states to use a government insurance scheme to provide pre-natal care.

They accused the Bush administration of trying to undermine the principle of Roe v Wade.

"There's a pattern here to establish foetal personhood," Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women said.

"At the point you establish a foetus is a person under the law, then even first trimester abortion becomes murder, and the Bush administration knows that."

Regan Ralph from the National Women's Law Centre said accused the government of relegating women to a second class status.

"It suggests that women's health interests can be overridden by elevating the status of the foetus. And it turns the whole idea of pre-natal health care on its head because prenatal care is about the mother as well as the foetus."

See also:

03 Feb 99 | US abortion rights
The politics of abortion
29 Aug 00 | Health
'Abortion causes foetal pain'
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