Nearly one week after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a pregnant woman in Texas says she was pulled over by the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department for driving in the carpool, or High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV), lane without another passenger. As of this weekend, the woman, Brandy Bottone, says she’s now challenging the ticket she received, citing the 34-week fetus she’s pregnant with, the Dallas Morning News reports.
Bottone told the outlet that when she was pulled over, she “pointed to my stomach and said, ‘My baby girl is right here. She is a person.’” When the officer told her that driving in the HOV lane requires “two people outside of the body,” Bottone says she responded, “With everything going on, this counts as a baby.’”
The officer reportedly told Bottone he didn’t “want to deal with this,” but Bottone is now challenging the $275 ticket and is confident she can get it dismissed by citing her pregnancy. “This has my blood boiling. How could this be fair? According to the new law, this is a life.” Texas’ state legislature recently introduced legislation to allow pregnant people to drive in the carpool lane, as Jezebel’s Caitlin Cruz reported in October. And earlier this year, House Republicans introduced the Child Tax Credit for Pregnant Moms Act of 2022, to essentially legally recognize fetuses as children.
Bottone’s story has since gone viral on social media—one tweet recounting her story has garnered nearly 400,000 likes on Twitter since Saturday. But it’s worth noting the dangers that come with advocating for legal recognition of unborn fetuses.
Recognition of an unborn fetus as a person comes with a long history of legal risks for pregnant people. Bottone’s state of Texas is one of nearly 40 states in which the penal code recognizes a fetus as a person. While fetal homicide laws were originally created to address the issue of homicide as the leading cause of death for pregnant people, these laws have instead been co-opted by anti-abortion activists and misused by prosecutors to criminally charge pregnant people who lose their pregnancies, possibly due to substance use, or self-induced abortions. Misuse of fetal homicide laws has contributed to the nearly 1,300 criminal charges for pregnancy loss doled out between 2006 and 2020—a number that’s tripled from 1973 to 2005.
In 2009, a pregnant woman in New York was convicted of manslaughter for losing her pregnancy after driving intoxicated without a seatbelt,
In a statement shared with Jezebel, National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) deputy executive director Dana Sussman says “fetal personhood laws that broadly redefine what a person or human is under the state’s criminal and civil codes” already exist in many states, and have “massively destabilizing, confusing, and unconstitutional impacts by attempting to give fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses the same rights and privileges as living people.”
NAPW has previously shared with Jezebel that it’s found numerous legal cases of pregnant people being prohibited from traveling out-of-state due to their partners’ custody claims over their fetus—some cases went so far as to regard pregnant people’s interstate travel as “kidnapping.” The child welfare system, which systematically singles out and persecutes Black families and families of color, has “found people to be ‘neglectful’ or ‘abusive’ parents before there’s even an actual baby,” Sussman said, because of their actions during pregnancy.
Even IVF, a fertility procedure that requires routine disposal of unused embryos, could be banned and criminalized following the logic of fetal personhood—logic that is the foundation of state fetal homicide laws, and a number of state abortion bans with “life begins at conception” language. Fetal personhood even challenges our rights to emergency contraception and most forms of birth control.
“There is simply no way to grant fetuses ‘personhood rights’ without subjugating the rights of pregnant people by creating a false tension between the rights of the fetus and the rights of a pregnant person,” Sussman said.
If Bottone’s challenge is successful, she could inadvertently support anti-abortion activists’ end goal. This goes beyond merely overturning Roe to legally establish fetal personhood, and with it, “equal protection” for embryos and fetuses at the expense of pregnant people’s humanity.