LINCOLN, Neb. (CN) – In a case with several hot political topics rolled into one, an undocumented woman who is 9 months pregnant sued Nebraska, saying it can deny her medical coverage, but can’t deny prenatal care to her unborn baby.
Sarah Roe sued the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and the heads of its Division of Children and Families and Division of Medicaid and Long-Term Care, in a class action in Lancaster County Court.
Roe says she applied for Nebraska Medicaid benefits in April, and the state denied her in June, saying she is an ineligible alien.
Roe says that denial of medical care for her unborn baby violates the Nebraska Medical Assistance Act and the separation of powers clause in the state constitution.
“According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, unborn children are not citizens or aliens, and as such are eligible for CHIP [Children’s Health Insurance Program] regardless of the pregnant mother’s immigration status,” the complaint states.
“Thus, under CHIP, states are allowed to provide medical assistance to unborn children, even if a mother is an otherwise ineligible immigrant, if all other eligibility criteria are met.”
Roe, who is married, acknowledges that she herself is not eligible for coverage, but says her unborn child is eligible under Nebraska law, which allowed such coverage until certain repeals took effect in June.
One of the repeals states that for a child to be eligible for the Children’s Medical Assistance Program, “an individual must prove they are a U.S. citizen or that they have eligible immigration status,” according to the complaint.
She claims that CHIP, and by extension, Nebraska, defines a child as someone younger than 19 years old, and that includes her unborn child. “States may provide CHIP coverage to all children under 19 years of age, including unborn children,” the complaint states.
Roe says the defendants exceeded their powers under the Nebraska Constitution.
“The Nebraska Legislature … elected to make unborn children eligible for medical assistance in Nebraska,” the complaint states.
“Since medical assistance benefits have been extended to unborn children, such medical assistance constitutes a legal right or privilege.
“The eligibility of unborn children … was not altered or terminated by the Nebraska Legislature.”
The class consists of all pregnant women and their unborn children who have been denied coverage under the Nebraska medical assistance program.
Roe seeks declaratory judgment and an injunction.
She is represented by James Goddard with the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest.