UPDATE, November 16, 2:26 p.m.: By a vote of 227-192, House Republicans on Thursday passed extremist fetal “personhood” language as part of their regressive tax bill. Thirteen Republicans voted against the bill; no Democrats voted for it. The U.S. Senate is considering a separate plan that similarly considers an “unborn child…at any stage of
development” as a tax beneficiary in a move that pits the federal tax code against reproductive rights.
Congressional Republicans are using their new tax plan for more than tax breaks for corporations and the rich. Their plan gives fetuses federal benefits in an apparent attempt to codify the view that life begins at fertilization—and to take another swipe at legal abortion.
“This is a back-door attempt to establish personhood from the moment of conception,” Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), co-chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, told Rewire in an email.
“The tax code is no place for injecting extreme policies to define what constitutes an ‘unborn child.’ What’s next, giving a Social Security number to a zygote?”
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DeGette’s office confirmed that the move is unprecedented in the tax code.
Page 93 of the 429-page plan, which a Washington Post analysis describes as rewarding big corporations and the “super-rich” at the expense of some small businesses, the working poor, and charities, outlines the GOP’s plan to designate “unborn children” as beneficiaries in 529 college savings plans.
The change appears to be politically motivated. Expectant parents already can put a 529 plan in their own name and switch the beneficiary when their child is born. That’s because 529 plans require the beneficiary’s social security number, which fetuses don’t have.
Two spokespeople for Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the GOP plan’s primary author in his role as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, did not respond to an email for comment by the time of publication.
The Republican plan provides fetuses with the federal benefits by saying that “nothing shall prevent an unborn child from being treated as a designated beneficiary or an individual.” The section of their tax plan goes on to define “unborn child” as a “child in utero”—”a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.’’
The phrase “at any stage of development” dovetails with the GOP’s escalating anti-choice agenda under President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Republicans on Capitol Hill are behind deeply unpopular “personhood” bills that try to classify fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as “persons,” and to grant them full legal protection under the U.S. Constitution, including the right to life from the moment of conception. The personhood laws would criminalize abortion with no exception and ban many forms of contraception, in vitro fertilization, and health care for pregnant people.
Trump’s U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is stacked with anti-choice extremists in the mold of Pence. The agency charged with overseeing the nation’s public health agenda recently released a draft strategic plan defining life at conception. HHS is promoting the so-called rhythm method over effective forms of birth control.
“The GOP’s relentless obsession with advancing its dangerous anti-choice ideology knows no boundaries and no common sense,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America’s Kaylie Hanson Long in a statement on the language in the Republican measure. “Inserting ‘personhood’ language into their tax bill is just the latest example of how they’re trying to turn back the clock on this country.”
Political and campaigns editor Ally Boguhn contributed to this report.