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OUR VIEW: Don't turn back on unborn kids of illegal aliens

Does a low-income foreign woman who enters the country illegally deserve subsidized prenatal care for herself and her unborn child?

It's a tough question. Some would argue that the rights and privileges of U.S. citizenship belong exclusively to U.S. citizens, and people who enter the country illegally have no standing to obtain services or assistance from the government.

On the other hand, any child born on U.S. soil is a U.S. citizen. If we deny prenatal care to the noncitizen mother, aren't we also denying it to the citizen child?

South Dakota legislators have been grappling with the issue, and legislation to provide prenatal care gained some traction this year in the state House of Representatives. We take that as a sign the bill is headed for passage in a future session of the Legislature, and we support such a move.

The Associated Press reported last week that nearly 200 babies were born in South Dakota last year to low-income, illegal immigrant mothers. Because the children are considered citizens upon their birth, the state must cover the newborn child's medical costs if the mothers cannot. But prenatal care is not required, and without it the risk of complications increases, and so do the costs.

Supporters of the prenatal care measure estimate the preventative services will cost nearly $247,000 annually, shared between the federal and state government.

Rep. Scott Ecklund, R-Brandon, is taking a sensible approach to the issue.

"We can't close that border. That's up to the federal government," Ecklund was quoted as saying in the AP report. "But we have to treat people the best we can while they're here."

On the other side, the argument of Rep. Gary Cammack, R-Union Center, falls flat.

"We should take care of our own citizens first, prior to taking care of those that are here illegally," Cammack was quoted as saying in the AP story.

Cammack misses the point. We are, in fact, taking care of our own citizens first. Low-income women who are U.S. citizens do have access to government-subsidized prenatal care.

He also seems to ignore the citizenship status of the unborn children of noncitizen mothers. Those children, when born on U.S. soil, are American citizens deserving of all the same rights and privileges as other citizens. To say they're not deserving of those rights while they're in the womb is a tough position to defend in a state with so many anti-abortion, pro-life activists. In fact, we argue that denying prenatal care to low-income women will result in an increased number of abortions.

Meanwhile, we wish Congress would do something to address this country's immigration policy mess.

But until that happens, our state should not punish innocent children for simply being in the womb of an illegal immigrant.