Nebraska bishops' support of prenatal care bill highlights true meaning of being 'pro-life'

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A bill advanced today in the Nebraska state legislature that would restore taxpayer-funded assistance to pregnant women who cannot afford the high costs of prenatal care. The bill's supporters, including state right to life organizations and the Catholic bishops' conference, argue that it will ensure women get the care needed to avoid complications in their pregnancy and to prevent later health risks for both mother and child. And undoubtedly, the availability of financial assistance for prenatal care gives women in crisis pregnancies one less reason to have an abortion.

A bill that supports pregnant women and healthy babies seems like a slam dunk, but it comes with a caveat--the financial aid provisions would apply to all pregnant women, even those who are not legally documented citizens. That's the main reason for opposition to the bill, as Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman says such a law would make the state a "magnet" for undocumented immigrants looking to take advantage of taxpayer-funded aid. Despite studies showing that immigrants don't choose where to live based on available government aid, Heineman has promised to veto the bill.

The argument over the bill has provided an opportunity for the state's bishops, including Omaha Archbishop George Lucas, to clearly explain that the church's teaching on human life isn't constrained by legal status or geographical boundaries. When mothers and their unborn children are at risk, Lucas said in a statement, "the necessary response--the response that is consistent with pro-life principles emanating from human dignity--is to ensure access to prenatal health care."

Those pro-life principles, of course, don't mean selectively choosing which lives are worthy of support and which are not. But the debate has provided an opportunity for Lucas to clarify the church's often misunderstood position on immigration, as he noted that the church has serious concerns about unlawful immigration but the current federal immigration system is “badly broken and in need of significant reform.” He also noted that it is especially contrary to Catholic teaching to call unborn children “illegal aliens,” and that they are “unique human beings and presumptive U.S. citizens."

It isn't often that we see the church's stance on controversial topics like health care, immigration, and abortion brought together in a unified effort on a single issue. But the Nebraska bishops' endorsement of the prenatal care bill is an excellent witness to the fact that all human beings--born and unborn, citizens or non-citizens--are equally sacred in the eyes of God.