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Health Care and the Unborn: Why We Need Free Prenatal Care

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In the midst of our cacophonous debate about national health care, we hear too little about the importance of preventive health care, and especially prenatal care. It's a true disappointment that the entire Pro-Life community is not out in the streets shouting for free prenatal care for every pregnant woman in America. Is there anything more important for both the moral fiber and national security of America?

As pointed out recently by a California State University research group (Bengiamin et al., Matern. Child Health J., online 26 June 2009), the proportion of American women receiving adequate prenatal care is only 75 percent -- which means 1 in 4 women in America are bearing fetuses in danger of compromised development.

As you might expect, the major reason for any lack of adequate prenatal care in low-income families is economics -- it costs money. If a family with a pregnant woman just has enough income to put food on the table and new shoes on the growing feet of children, the pregnant woman either delays prenatal care or tries to avoid it as much as possible if payment for the care must come out of the family budget. Can anyone name another industrialized country where a pregnant woman needs to worry about the cost of prenatal care? It's a uniquely American misery in our current health care circus -- a circus in which various clowns in Congress are trying to convince the American people that everything can be left in the hands of private enterprise. Sure thing. Is private enterprise offering free prenatal care to anyone?

As noted by Marlene Bengiamin and her group, inadequate prenatal care is a well-known health risk for both infant and mother. No pediatrician will deny this. Woman who receive inadequate prenatal care are at risk for poor pregnancy outcomes. Any woman not receiving prenatal care during the first trimester of pregnancy, or not receiving the total number of visits appropriate for the gestational age of the baby at birth, is not getting adequate prenatal care -- and that's currently 1 in 4 women.

We need to stop dancing around this problem. We need to stop hoping to find a way to provide adequate health care without costing any extra money. Are we a people who would rather compromise our children than compromise our bank accounts? The only way to ensure we get all pregnant women into clinics for prenatal care is to make such care absolutely free to all women irrespective of family income.

If the federal government needs to hire its own obstetricians to run prenatal clinics, so be it. It's truly a question of national security. We already hire military people and military contractors and defense contractors for national security -- why not hire national security physicians to make certain that every pregnant woman in America gets adequate prenatal care? Either that or make certain that every pregnant woman has prenatal care insurance -- no questions asked, no income statements, the only requirement pregnancy of the woman.

Why is it so difficult for us to recognize our necessary priorities? Do we hate ourselves that much? Do the rich hate everyone else that much? Does anyone take pleasure in the health of children wrecked before they even get born, or wrecked in the few years after birth -- all of it because a family is on the edge of economic survival? Is America merely a monstrous paradox?

Let every woman be free to choose. And if she chooses to complete her pregnancy, her prenatal care must be absolutely free. We need that. We really do need it.

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