Court Ruling Expands Access to Prenatal Care for New California Residents

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ACLU of Northern CA

The San Francisco Superior Court today struck down a state law requiring that low-income working women must have resided in California for at least six months before they can be eligible to receive prenatal and other medical care services through California's Access for Infants and Mothers (AIM) insurance program.

In April 2008 Maternal and Child Health Access (MCH Access), an advocacy group, filed suit seeking a court order to prevent the state from enforcing the six-month in-state residency requirement. The ACLU of Northern California, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, Bay Area Legal Aid and Lucy Quacinella represented MCH Access in the case.

"Time is of the essence in obtaining access to prenatal care, especially in the first trimester," said Lynn Kersey, Executive Director of MCH Access, a non-profit organization that advocates for health care for pregnant women and children. "Study after study shows that early access to prenatal care is important for the well-being of the mother and the child. To deny working women health care simply because they are new to the state endangers the health of both the mother and the child."

Today's ruling clears the way for these women to obtain the essential prenatal and other medical care they need.

"Many low-wage working women don't get health insurance with their jobs and don't earn enough to afford health care on their own. The situation has dramatically worsened for working poor women as the economy sinks and so many are losing their jobs," said attorney Lucy Quacinella. "At least with AIM, women can get health coverage during pregnancy."

"The Court recognized that excluding pregnant women from medical care simply because they are new California residents violates their fundamental rights,"said Margaret Crosby, staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. "The Constitution protects the right to travel. States cannot treat newcomers unfairly."

The AIM program is not only medically vital but cost effective. According to the federal government's Institute of Medicine, each dollar spent on adequate prenatal care saves $3.38 on medical care that would otherwise be necessary for low birth weight infants during the first year of life. Other investigators have computed different, even higher, ratios, but virtually all find evidence of cost effectiveness.

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