Catholics praise Nebraska law helping pregnant immigrants

Nebraska State Capitol Credit Tim OBrien CC BY NC 20 CNA US Catholic News 4 20 12 \Nebraska State Capitol. | Tim O'Brien (CC BY-NC 2.0).

In a move surpassing anti-immigration sentiment, the Nebraska legislature overrode the governor’s veto of a bill that provides taxpayer-funded prenatal care for immigrant and imprisoned women.

Nebraska Catholic Conference executive director James Cunningham lauded the bill as “a strong pro-life policy that helps to ensure that babies are born healthy and have a good start in life.”

The legislation “identified the unborn child as an eligible recipient in his or her own right,” Cunningham told CNA April 20.

The Republican-controlled Nebraska Senate, the only legislative body in the state’s unicameral system, on April 19 voted to override the veto 30-16, gathering the minimum vote necessary for an override. Three other senators did not vote.

Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln introduced the bill after a 2010 Medicaid policy change eliminated prenatal care for low-income mothers. Bill opponent Sen. Tony Fulton of Lincoln said the bill would provide care to those who are “breaking the law to be here,” the Daily Nebraskan reported.

The faith community and the private sector should “stand up” and provide the prenatal care, he said.

Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, said Thursday that he “strongly” disagrees with the decision. He said the legislature decided to provide “taxpayer-funded benefits to illegal immigrants.”

He has previously voiced concerns that the bill would make Nebraska more attractive to undocumented workers.

The legislation restores services to about 1,100 illegal immigrants per year and about 40 legal residents who are in prison. The services will cost about $650,000 in state money and $1.9 million in federal tax dollars each year, the Los Angeles Times says.

Senate Speaker Mike Flood cited his pro-life stand in support of the bill.

“If I'm going to stand up in the Legislature and protect babies at 20 weeks from abortion, and hordes of senators and citizens are going to stand behind me, and that's pro-life, then I'm going to be pro-life when it's tough, too,” he said Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.

The state’s Catholic bishops also backed the bill.

Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, speaking as head of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, praised the legislation April 9 for being “consistent with pro-life principles.”

Cunningham told CNA the bill recognizes “the humanity of the unborn child” and addresses unborn children’s healthcare needs even if their mothers are impoverished and are otherwise ineligible for state-funded care.

“We thought it was a sound public policy all around,” said Cunningham, who added that prenatal care will lessen the risks of more serious problems for a baby after birth after birth and will “give them a good start in life.”

“Ultimately this will save the state money on Medicaid expenditures,” he said. “We are pleased the legislature overrode the veto.”

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