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A misguided targeting of Oklahoma prenatal care funding

IN 2003, a conservative member of the Legislature authored a bill to provide in-state college tuition to Oklahoma children of illegal immigrants, arguing the youths shouldn’t be punished for their parents’ actions. He was right. But a few years later when cracking down on illegal immigration became a cause for Republicans, the author reversed course and voted to repeal the law.

Reducing the flow of illegal immigrants into this country remains a priority for many in the GOP, including, apparently, Sen. Paul Scott of Duncan. Scott has filed a bill seeking to end the Soon-to-Be-Sooners program, which provides prenatal health care to low-income women.

Scott says he’s trying to illuminate the fact “that the federal government is forcing states and hardworking taxpayers to foot the bill for illegal immigrants to have their babies in the U.S. This isn’t right.”

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority says the Soon-to-Be-Sooners program served 9,856 women in fiscal year 2018 at a cost of $15.74 million. The federal government provided $14.8 million of that.

Scott says the federal government has “tied our hands” because it will remove federal Children’s Health Insurance Program funding — $91 million — if the state stops providing funding to noncitizens in the Soon-to-Be-Sooners program. He’s urging residents to call their federal representatives and ask them to end the requirement to cover noncitizens under CHIP. “Our responsibility is to the taxpayers of this state, not illegal immigrants,” Scott said.

Yet eliminating the Soon-to-Be-Sooners program would impact Oklahomans as well as undocumented residents. Thirty-seven percent of women in the program — roughly 3,600 — are U.S. citizens. Most importantly, doing away with the program would put at risk infants who are innocent of any wrongdoing.

Prenatal care — weight checks, ultrasounds, dietary advice, etc. — is intended to help ensure that babies are born healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that birth weight is “the single most important factor influencing neonatal mortality.” Babies born to women who don’t receive prenatal care are three times more likely to have a low birth weight, according to the Office of Women’s Health.

This bill is sure to find favor with the conservative base, and perhaps that is part of the intention. Other lawmakers are doing the same. Sen. Joseph Silk, R-Broken Arrow, wants to redefine homicide to include any abortion — and would prevent the state from sending attorneys to argue its case if the bill becomes law and is challenged in federal court.

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