The abortion ban in Georgia counts a fetus as a person. And now his tax code.
The state Treasury Department announced this week that “any unborn child with a verifiable human heartbeat” can be claimed as a dependent, granting a $3,000 tax exemption for any pregnancy within a household months before the child is born. Georgian law prohibits most abortions after six weeks, which is usually when doctors can begin to detect the fetus’ heart activity.
The announcement marks a new frontier in anti-abortion politics in a post-Roe America where conservative lawmakers have gone beyond prohibiting abortion and are now seeking to expand the legal rights and protections afforded to a fetus under the laws of abortion “fetal personality” are granted. Georgia, Alabama and Arizona have enacted abortion bans that incorporate language that defines a fetus broadly as a person.
Regardless, nearly 40 states, including Texas and California, define a fetus as a person in cases involving murder. For example, in 2004, Scott Peterson was convicted in California of murdering his wife and unborn child. His wife, Laci Peterson, was eight months pregnant when she was killed.
Georgia’s abortion law goes further than any other provision on fetal personality. The so-called Living Infants Fairness and Equality or LIFE Act prohibits abortions after six weeks and expressly recognizes the fetus as a person.
A federal judge overturned the law last summer, finding it violated a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. The appeals court delayed a final decision pending a ruling from the US Supreme Court.
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After the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade overturned on June 24, a three-judge panel of the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit handed Georgia conservatives the long-awaited victory, allowing abortion restrictions to go into effect.
In the July 20 appeals court decision, Chief Justice William H. Pryor Jr. wrote that “a person of reasonable intelligence is able to understand that the ‘core meaning [of]”The provision is intended to expand the concept of a person to include unborn people who are carried in the womb at every stage of development.”
Governor Brian Kemp, who signed the law into law in 2019, celebrated the court’s decision.
“Georgia is a state that values and supports life at all stages – and the Georgia LIFE Act and this provision both reflect that commitment,” said a spokesman for Mr. Kemp.
Said State Representative Ed Setzler, a Republican sponsor of the bill in a leaked video from 2019 that the ultimate goal of the law is for the Supreme Court to recognize the personality of a fetus.
“It’s about establishing the personality of the unborn child in tax laws, in maternal child support, in our census counts, throughout our statute book so that we can lay the foundation that no other state in the nation has achieved in the last 46 years has ever done, which is to establish the personality of this child, and we will take this to the highest court in the country,” Mr Setzler said in the video.
Mr. Setzler did not respond to requests for comment.
Georgia’s push to recognize a fetus as a person could provide the blueprint for other conservative states that have yet to clarify the meaning and implications of such an approach, legal experts said.
“The anti-abortion movement has always been a personality movement, there just wasn’t a consensus on what that actually meant,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, who has written several books on abortion and the law.
Before Roe’s downfall, conservatives were united around the single goal of restricting access to abortion. But Ms. Ziegler says the anti-abortion movement is struggling to find a consensus on what fetal personality means in a post-Roe legal landscape.
“Nobody’s really figured out how to force personality beyond just ‘You can’t have an abortion,'” she said. “Georgia is starting to figure that out, but they’ve really only looked at a handful of situations. How do you enforce this in HOV lanes? Do you give a fetus its own advocate? There are so many unanswered questions.”
Last month, a pregnant Texas woman who was ticketed just for driving in the HOV lane argued that her fetus was counted as a person under the state’s abortion ban. The Texas abortion ban does not include fetal personality, but the penal code does.
Georgia’s abortion law also allows the mother to collect child support to cover “direct medical and pregnancy-related expenses” before the child is born.
Democrats said the law could also expose women who miscarry to unknown consequences.
“So what happens if you claim your fetus as a dependent and miscarry later in the pregnancy and you’re under investigation for both tax fraud and illegal abortion?” tweeted Lauren Groh-Wargo, the campaign manager for the Democratic nominee for governor Georgia, Stacey Abrams.
Monday’s announcement said taxpayers claiming the new deduction may be asked to provide medical records or documentation about the pregnancy. The Treasury Department has not clarified whether and how families who lose a pregnancy can protect themselves from allegations of fraud.
Specific instructions on how to claim a fetus on a tax return are expected later this year.