This week alone, Republicans waged a legal war to deny pregnant people life-saving emergency care, wrote off the devastating story of a 10-year-old rape victim denied abortion in Ohio as a hoax, signaled interest in banning IVF, and challenged the right to travel out-of-state for abortion. Proving the devil works hard but anti-abortion lawmakers work harder, Senate Republicans also, somehow, had time to unveil the Unborn Child Support Act, a bill that would require fathers to pay child support starting in the first month of someone’s pregnancy, “as determined by a physician.” (Never not ironic to me when Republicans invoke the expertise of physicians, who unilaterally oppose abortion bans, but, alas…)
The bill, first introduced by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MI), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MI), Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), and other Congressional Republicans on Wednesday, would amend the Social Security Act “to ensure that child support for unborn children is collected and distributed under the child support enforcement program.”
In an almost comical attempt to market the bill as a benevolent act of feminism rather than a ploy to accord embryos legal personhood, Hyde-Smith said the Unborn Child Support Act “would help ensure women have opportunities to receive child-support payments from the earlier days of their pregnancy” in post-Roe v. Wade America.
“I hope good legislation, like the Unborn Child Support Act, gets more support now that the [Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health] decision encourages us to look more seriously at supporting mothers and their unborn children,” Hyde-Smith, famous for “joking” about her desire to attend an old-fashioned Southern lynching, said this week.
Let’s call this bill what it is: an attempt to somehow dehumanize women and pregnant people even further. As Jezebel’s Caitlin Cruz has previously pointed out, shortly after Republicans in Congress introduced an eerily similar “Unborn Child Tax Credit” bill in February, fetal personhood is “the conservative endgame.” Why? “Eventually if a fetus is a person, you can legally control the reproductive process of others and subjugate those capable of pregnancy.”
This, of course, is already happening—rogue prosecutors have long misused fetal homicide laws that exist in most states to investigate, prosecute, and even jail people for their pregnancy losses or self-managed abortions. When laws are interpreted as conferring personhood upon embryos and fetuses, pregnant people who miscarry, need emergency abortion care to not die, seek certain medications, or even lose a pregnancy after being physically attacked, they become possible murder suspects. IVF—which requires routine disposal of unused embryos—becomes a crime, a pregnant person traveling across state lines without their partner’s consent becomes kidnapping, substance use or certain behaviors before a child is even born become “child abuse.”
Dangerous myths about fetal personhood and the law have contributed to nearly 2,000 cases of pregnancy outcomes being criminalized since Roe was decided in 1973—legislation like the Unborn Child Support Act, even just insidious “pro-women” language like Hyde-Smith’s, are part of the problem.
Laurie Bertram Roberts, co-founder of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, has pointed out that bills like this after the fall of Roe are meant to shut down criticism from some abortion rights supporters about all the ways Republican economic policies hurt children and families—but their only “real goal is to get personhood language into a bill.”
“Actual policy solutions would be a social safety net, things that actually would substantively and in a very stable way change people’s lives and actually change child poverty and impact maternal mortality,” Roberts told the Mississippi Free Press. “But when you say, ‘oh, we’re just going to start child support while you’re pregnant.’ So if I procreate with someone who is low income, then I’m still poor.”
Hyde-Smith claims the Unborn Child Support Act is about helping “mothers” get the support they need. But as National Advocates for Pregnant Women’s Dana Sussman has previously told me, fetal personhood actually endangers pregnant people: “If their rights are secondary to the fetus or at odds with the fetus, that lends to an environment in which violence—whether it’s state violence like imprisonment or interpersonal violence—can be committed against pregnant people with far less accountability.”
The Unborn Child Act gives anti-abortion politicians everything they want: the full dehumanization of women and pregnant people, unfettered legal grounds to control and criminalize us—all while pretending to give a shit about our well-being.