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Prenatal Care Groups Mourn Federal Budget Cuts

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Of the world's most advanced economies, the United States has the highest infant mortality rate. One reason is because of the high number of premature births.

Now, as CBS 2's Mike Puccinelli reports, activists fear the number of preemies might rise because of federal budget cuts to prenatal care programs supported by the March of Dimes.

Darcell Regans' son Xzaviar was born full-term one month ago. Regans said she believes that's in part because of a prenatal program she's involved in at the Lawndale Christian Health Center.

The program's clients have a premature delivery rate of just 2 percent, compared to a rate of 13 percent across the state.

She said she thinks it's possible that, if the program hadn't been available, Xzaviar might have been at risk of being born premature.

That was the reality for Joyce Anthony. She had her first child a few years ago, and he came early.

"I had him at seven, eight months," Anthony said. "He was 4 pounds 3 ounces. He stayed in the hospital for twelve days."

That was in the neo-natal intensive care unit at considerable cost.

"The average NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) stay is probably about $20,000 a day," nurse and midwife Jennifer Oh said.

Insurance companies have said that the average cost for a baby that has to stay in the NICU is more than $100,000, compared with just $2,000 for a normal newborn.

That's why March of Dimes officials have said that fiscally conservative lawmakers should restore funding for prenatal care programs.

"Some babies do fine that are born prematurely, but the bulk of them do have lifelong issues that will, in the long run, cost our society much more money," March of Dimes spokeswoman Susan Knight said.

Anthony said she agrees. With the Help of the Lawndale program, her second child was born full term. Now they're once again helping her as she awaits her third baby, due in August.

Anthony said she believes if she had been in the prenatal care program while pregnant with her first baby, the child would have been born full-term.

"Instead of me being all clueless and stuff like that, they would have had me step by step," she said.

Two Illinois congressmen who voted in favor of the budget cuts defended their positions.

U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Illinois) said, "Right now, the federal government is running record deficits; it simply cannot continue to spend at current levels. Due to the reckless spending of the previous Congress, tough choices are now being made and even popular programs have to be looked at."

U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Illinois) said, "These cuts aren't easy, but they're necessary for America's long-term economic well-being. We're not cutting spending for the sake of cutting spending. We're cutting spending to remove barriers to job creation."

Contrary to a prior report, Roskam's office does not dispute the figures cited by the programs' supporters.

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