TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Alabama Supreme Court’s recent ruling that frozen embryos are legally protected children highlights how support for the idea that a fetus should have the same rights as a person underpins laws and proposals far less dramatic actions of the enemies of abortion around the world. the United States

Lawmakers in at least six states have proposed measures similar to a Georgia law that allows women to seek child support from conception to cover pregnancy expenses. Georgia also allows expectant parents to claim its income tax deduction for dependent children before birth, Utah enacted a pregnancy tax break last year, and variations of those measures are before lawmakers in at least four other states.

Including legislation that makes it a crime to harm or kill a fetus, several dozen proposals that fall under the broad umbrella of promoting fetal rights are pending in at least 15 states, according to an Associated Press analysis using bill tracking software Plural.

The Alabama court’s decision underscored the anti-abortion movement’s long-standing goal of granting embryos and fetuses legal and constitutional protections on par with those of the women who carry them. But abortion rights advocates see proposals that grant even limited protections to embryos and fetuses as having potentially broader implications.

“Any law that applies to a human being could apply to fetuses,” said Melissa Murray, a professor at New York University School of Law. “The full range of statutory and constitutional law is available.”

Abortion opponents argue that proposals for income taxes or child support (or state aid to anti-abortion centers that provide services during pregnancy and after childbirth) are driven by compassion for vulnerable women and girls. The aid could persuade some not to terminate pregnancies, abortion opponents argue, but his tax and child support proposals would also help women and girls who never consider abortion.

“The main goal is just to help provide support to mothers and families who need additional support here and then provide support to those who are also helping them, like pregnancy resource centers,” said Lucrecia Nold, who lobbies for the Kansas Catholic Conference. .

A Kansas House committee held a hearing earlier this month on the child support proposal, and a bill to allow prospective parents to claim the $2,250 state dependent income tax deduction before the birth of a child is before a Senate committee. Lawmakers are expected to discuss both in the coming weeks.

Kansas is an outlier among states with Republican-controlled legislatures because of a 2019 state Supreme Court decision declaring that the Kansas Constitution protects access to abortion as a matter of the fundamental right to bodily autonomy. Lawmakers put an amendment on the ballot to explicitly declare that the constitution does not grant the right to abortion, allowing them to greatly restrict or ban the procedure, but voters soundly rejected it in August 2022. It was the first of seven state votes that affirmed abortion rights after the US Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that allowed states to ban abortion.

But Kansas also has a law since 2007 that allows people to face separate charges for crimes against fetuses, including capital murder, vehicular manslaughter and assault, and it has not been challenged. A 2013 state law declares that life begins at fertilization and that “unborn children have interests in life, health and well-being that must be protected,” but it has not been applied as a limit on abortion.

Brittany Jones, an attorney and policy director for Kansas Family Voice, which opposes abortion and sought the child support measure, said the state Supreme Court didn’t care about those laws when it ruled in 2019.

“This craziness that we are trying to do something legally unique is just hysterical,” he said. “We believe that both mother and child have value. I won’t run from it; that’s true.”

Questioning abortion opponents’ motives for implementing more limited measures related to child support or income taxes, abortion rights advocates argue that they do not represent meaningful help to pregnant women or their families.

During a Kansas House committee hearing this month, abortion providers argued that if the state wants to help them, it should consider expanding social services, including Medicaid; improve access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive care; or require paid family leave. The state budget division projected that nearly 21,000 additional income tax filers would be able to claim the dependent deduction, but the average savings would be about $91 each.

Elisabeth Smith, director of state policy and advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which fights for abortion access, called such measures “window dressing” and said they and the Alabama Supreme Court ruling are part of a coordinated anti-abortion campaign. throughout the United States.

“This is absolutely part of the antis’ long campaign to perpetuate the stigma of abortion and normalize that an embryo and fetus are the same as a living, breathing, walking human being,” Smith said.

But Mary Zieger, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, who has published six books since 2015 on the national abortion debate and its history, said state measures on fetal personhood could also sway the conservative majority. of the United States Supreme Court to consider whether the rights of the United States Constitution apply to fetuses and embryos as a matter of history or tradition.

“And then they’ll say, ‘Well, look, there’s also all these states that hold this position,’” he said.

In Alabama, voters amended the state constitution in 2018 to declare that the public policy of the state is “to ensure the protection of the rights of the fetus.” The justices cited that provision in separate opinions on frozen embryos.

Broad fetal rights proposals are pending in at least four states, and Vermont has one to grant rights to fetuses in the 24th week of pregnancy, although it is unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Ziegler, who is working on a book promoting fetal rights, said such sweeping measures are likely to be unpopular among voters who want to protect access to abortion or in vitro fertilization for women who have trouble conceiving.

He said abortion foes are trying to find “unicorn” bills that promote fetal personhood without “really angering voters.”

“There’s kind of a longer game being played here in the sense that the goal is ultimately some kind of federal recognition of the personhood of the fetus,” he said.


Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

By Sam