The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed a package of bills dubbed “Tax Reform 2.0” containing a provision extending the ability to count “unborn children” as beneficiaries under 529 education savings plans.
The tax bill is being advanced outside the budget reconciliation process, which means it’s unlikely to get the 60 votes needed to pass the closely divided U.S. Senate without a filibuster, though it may be taken up after the midterm elections.
The GOP’s Family Savings Act, part of a package of tax legislation that passed the lower chamber by a 240-177 vote, is the latest effort by anti-choice legislators to insert so-called personhood language into the tax code. “Nothing shall prevent an unborn child from being treated as a designated beneficiary or an individual under this section,” reads the bill, referring to 529 tax-deferred plans for education savings. The provision is similar to language inserted in tax reform legislation that passed the House last November before being removed in conference.
So-called personhood laws, backed by abortion rights foes and recently embraced by congressional Republicans, aim to classify fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as “persons,” granting them legal protection under the U.S. Constitution. “Personhood” laws have been rejected by voters in ballot measures across the United States.
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“It’s yet another attempt to slip something into the tax code to define personhood,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, in a statement to Rewire.News. “This is how extremist views creep into the mainstream. Provisions like this one should never become law—they can lead to limits on access to abortion and even birth control.”
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) said in a statement said Democratic lawmakers should remain vigilant of any attempt by congressional Republicans to push anti-choice measures through larger bills, even if those bills don’t stand much of a chance in the Senate.
“In addition to exploding our deficit and leaving hard-working American families behind, the GOP’s Tax Plan 2.0 advances a clear political agenda to limit access to safe, legal abortions,” Moore said. “This personhood language undermines women’s rights and has absolutely no place US tax law. … Democrats must continue stand strong in opposition to these radical GOP policies designed exclusively to benefit the privileged at the expense of the vulnerable.”
“Even in addition to making the tax cuts for individuals permanent, it also gives a whole lot of options for families saving for education and those savings accounts,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), chair of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, said in a floor speech before the bill’s passage. Meadows in an early September letter urged House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to include the anti-choice language in the next round of tax reform.
Anti-choice activists applauded the bill’s inclusion of “personhood” language. “[The bill] will deliver much-needed relief for growing families and adoptive parents, while recognizing—for the first time in the tax code—the humanity of the child in the womb,” said Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council. “Pregnant moms and expectant parents will finally have the opportunity to get started on planning for their child’s college education.”
The statement by Perkins appears to be mistaken, as expectant parents can already open a 529 plan listing themselves as the beneficiary before switching it over to the child once they are born. Current law requires Social Security numbers for all 529 beneficiaries.
“This may be the last action we see taken on this issue in 2018, as its unlikely those changes would get to the White House this year,” tax policy expert Jon Traub, managing principal of the tax policy group at Deloitte, said in a statement. “The other two pieces of Tax Cuts 2.0—expanding retirement savings and incentives for innovation among start-ups—could find new life in a post-election Lame Duck session of Congress.”