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Ban on Prenatal Care for Illegal Immigrants Halted

Benefits: Judge rules that Gov. Wilson's measure fails to ensure services for women with infectious diseases.

March 06, 1998|PATRICK J. McDONNELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Superior Court judge in Los Angeles blocked Gov. Pete Wilson on Thursday from going forward with his often delayed plan to bar tens of thousands of illegal immigrant women from state-subsidized prenatal care under the Medi-Cal program.

Judge Robert H. O'Brien ruled that the state failed to ensure that women would still have access to screening and treatment for infectious ailments regardless of immigration status. Prenatal care is an important diagnostic tool for discovering AIDS, tuberculosis and other diseases.

"The specter of communicable diseases going unattended within the society presents a threat to the society generally and not just to the individuals affected," O'Brien ruled.

The decision marks at least the third court ruling blocking planned implementation of the ban, which was scheduled to take effect April 1.

The sweeping federal welfare overhaul of 1996 mandated that states eliminate most nonemergency public aid to illegal immigrants. Wilson has moved aggressively to implement the ban, starting with prenatal care for about 70,000 undocumented women.

However, the federal law specifically included a public health exception that allowed illegal immigrants continued access to subsidized care for screening and treatment of communicable diseases, as well as for immunizations. Legislators reasoned that such aid was in the broad public interest.

"Had the state been allowed to go forward as planned, the state would have seriously endangered the health, indeed the lives, of these pregnant women, their babies and the public at large," said Robert Newman, an attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, co-counsel in the challenge.

Lisa Kalustian, a spokesman for Wilson, said an appeal was being considered and voiced confidence that the courts would ultimately uphold the state plan.

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