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Nebraska lawmaker revives prenatal care debate

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 21, 2013 at 7:05 pm •  Published: March 21, 2013

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A long-shot attempt to repeal state-funded prenatal care services for illegal immigrants drew criticism Thursday from a variety of Nebraska groups.

Advocates for children, immigrants and medical clinics convened at the Capitol to oppose a bill by Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont. Several people said Janssen, a Republican candidate for governor, was exploiting the issue for political gain.

Janssen presented the repeal measure to the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee. Lawmakers restored coverage last year for the unborn children of the women, after a bitter fight in the Legislature and with Gov. Dave Heineman. Heineman opposes the services.

"I'm concerned that when we allow these state benefits at public expense, we reward illegal behavior and divert limited resources from necessary services for legal residents," Janssen said.

Janssen said he introduced the bill because the Legislature has new members who have not yet weighed in on the issue.

Shirley A. Mora James, president of the Nebraska Hispanic Bar Organization, said the measure would deny prenatal care to children who would be born in the United States. James said the lack of care could force expecting mothers to consider an abortion.

"You profess to be pro-life and have family values, then ... stop attacking the health and very lives of these innocent U.S. babies," she said to Janssen. "You need to start protecting and advocating for them, or else you're nothing but a hypocrite for political self-gain."

The bill is unlikely to advance. Four lawmakers on seven-member committee voted in favor of restoring prenatal care services last year. The issue divided lawmakers who argued that the issue was foremost about unborn children, who have no immigration status, and those who cast it as a tax giveaway to illegal immigrants.

"I take offense to people making immigration, illegal or not, a campaign issue," said Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, a Republican committee member who promised to help kill Janssen's bill.

Yazmin Gamez, a deferred-action immigrant now in college, told lawmakers that access to Medicaid coverage helped ensure a safe birth for her 4-year-old daughter. Gamez was diagnosed with an iron deficiency while pregnant, which can increase the risk of early deliveries and low birth weight. Gamez urged lawmakers to kill the bill.

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