Full Story The Bush administration's decision to extend federal health benefits to fetuses is likely to have more political than practical fallout in Massachusetts, where most low-income women are already eligible for prenatal care under several existing state programs, state officials and advocates say. The move, billed as promoting prenatal care when it was announced by administration officials last week, represents the first time that any federal policy has defined childhood as beginning at conception. Starting in November, ''unborn children'' will qualify for government health benefits, a change praised by abortion foes, but ripped by abortion-rights advocates as a thinly veiled attempt by the administration to push an antiabortion agenda. Although states will not be compelled to cover developing fetuses, any state may choose to pay for such care through the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or S-CHIP, a program for low-income children that is a shared responsibility of the federal government and states. Robert P. Gittens, the state's secretary of health and human services, said over the weekend that officials will study the program to see how it will fit within the context of existing programs here. ''We will review it and determine what it means for Massachusetts,'' he said. State health officials and advocates like James W. Hunt Jr., the president of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, said yesterday that the state is already a national leader in providing health care to moderate- and low-income pregnant women through programs such as Medicaid and the Children's Medical Security Plan and through networks of nonprofit, community-based clinics. ''Providers have stepped up to say no woman should go without care,'' Hunt said. State officials did say that funding for some prenatal health care programs has been affected by the state budget crisis, but that so far, no applicants had been turned away. It is too soon to tell, officials said, whether the newly available federal funds could be used to bridge any state funding gap. The administration's change in the definition of childhood, meanwhile, has sparked a fierce debate between advocates on both sides of the abortion issue. ''Unfortunately, this is one more example of the Bush administration not really caring about children and family health - they're pursuing a political agenda,'' said Dianne Luby, president of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. Luby said the program sets a bad precedent: separating the concept of prenatal care by ensuring the fetus under one program but not the mother. ''It's not good public policy. It's not a good health care policy,'' she said. ''It's a backdoor approach to health care problems that really isn't fooling anyone.'' Abortion foes, however, praised the change and criticized abortion rights advocates for taking an ideological position against a program that extends more aid to low-income women. The rule makes fetuses of illegal immigrants eligible for the program, whereas federal policy had previously precluded people living illegally in the United States from qualifying for any form of government health insurance. ''I would hope we would all be right on the bandwagon with that,'' said Laurie Letourneau, cochairwoman of the political action committee of the Life Action League of Massachusetts. ''Obviously, if someone is choosing to keep a child, then it's a child. I just think it is unfortunate that absolutely anything done around fetuses gets caught up in the abortion debate.''