In a move that has inspired both praise and opposition, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson recently announced that the Bush administration is considering defining a human embryo as a “child.”

Thompson said the proposed change would help states provide medical coverage for a broader range of low-income pregnant women. In addition, Thompson insisted the move has nothing to do with the volatile debate on abortion.

However, many abortion-rights activists disagree and are angered by what they see as an attempt by the Bush administration to establish regulations that could be used against pro-choice supporters in the future.

The change would make use of the label “child” as a description from conception until age nineteen and would enable states to provide care for low-income pregnant women under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Many, including Madison’s own Alliance for Life Ministries and Wisconsin Right To Life, have praised the administration for what they say is a step in the right direction.

Rep. John Townsend, R-Fond du Lac, said he thinks the bill would be very beneficial for pregnant women.

“What we do know is that people from lower income groups often suffer from a lack of care,” Townsend said. “I think that [fixing this] is very important.”

While supporters of the legislation contend activists are attacking a regulation that has nothing to do with the abortion battle, many abortion-rights defenders say this is not the case. They feel that while the issue of prenatal care for low-income women is very important, this change is a poorly disguised way of attacking a woman’s right to an abortion.

Activists cite previous pieces of rejected legislation that would provide the same benefits for low-income women but did not include the definition change. Many pro-choice supporters have pointed to this move as a further incursion on the reproductive rights of women.

Assembly Democrat Leader Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, supports legislation that provides for the care of low-income pregnant women. However, he agrees that this name change is unnecessary and could be avoided.

“I support medical coverage for prenatal care. [However], the way that they are doing it is rather odd,” Black said. “It seems that it is intended to provide a legal basis for interfering with a woman’s choice.”

The change is currently being debated by parties on both sides of the abortion battle and will be decided by the U.S. Congress.