While checking out the new Republican tax reform legislation, which they've invitingly named the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, you were probably looking at, sensibly, what it means for the more financial aspects of your life. So, chances are, you probably missed the anti-abortion language that's hidden in the GOP tax plan. Because so-called personhood bills haven't yet succeeded on their own in qualifying fetuses as people upon conception, the GOP has now apparently decided to adopt a different strategy.
And they've gone about it in a roundabout and unanticipated way. After all, who would expect to find anti-abortion language in a tax reform bill? Specifically, the bill contains language explicitly allowing parents to open tax-advantaged college savings accounts, or 529s, in the name of their unborn children.
"On its own, I find it a despicable play to lay the groundwork for “personhood” bills and ending abortion rights," says Calla Hales, the manager of a clinic that provides abortions in Charlotte, North Carolina. She goes on:
Naturally, you’d expect me to say that as an abortion provider. As a tax paying citizen, I’ll frame it this way: Frankly, it’s fraud. A potential life cannot have assets. It cannot work, earn money, or open a bank account (or have one opened for it). ... I find it logically impossible and incredibly unethical to fiscally account for a fetus.
While this new language might serve some purpose if the existing law didn't allow parents to open 529s for their children until they actually had a baby in their arms, that's not the case. As it stands right now, parents can open 529s for their future, hypothetical children before they've even conceived — one parent just has to be at least 18 years old, and then they can transfer the account to the child's name as soon as the child actually exists.
The tax bill, however, inserts language specifying that an unborn child can have a 529. Then it goes on to define what it really means by "unborn child."
“Nothing shall prevent an unborn child from being treated as a designated beneficiary or an individual under this section,” the bill says, making the infinitesimal change that now parents can open the bill in the unborn child's name instead of their own. It doesn't stop there, however. “The term ‘unborn child’ means a child in utero. The term ‘child in utero’ means a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.’’
This overbearing explanation comes dangerously close to the typical language of a personhood bill. One introduced in the House in January used the phrase "human life shall be deemed to begin with fertilization," which carries essentially the same meaning as the language in the tax bill. The bulk of the bill, of course, is about something entirely different — but inserting this language could be a strategy to weaken the Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal across the country.
GOP officials might have tried to sneak this one in under the radar, but so far they haven't quite managed.
"The GOP’s tax proposal's inclusion of 'personhood' language makes one thing clear: that their anti-choice ideology knows no bounds or common sense," said NARAL Pro-Choice America representative Kaylie Hanson Long in a statement. "We know that while they are busy trying to pass this tax proposal into law, they are also turning their backs on kids, women, families, seniors, and the disabled — those who stand to lose the most in this tax bill."
“This is a back-door attempt to establish personhood from the moment of conception,” Rep. Diana DeGette told Politico. “What’s next, giving a Social Security number to a zygote?”"
Anti-abortion advocates, on the other hand, have expressed both surprise and excitement over the personhood language. “We’re thrilled about it, but it wasn’t something that we were specifically calling for,” said Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action. “We’ll fight to make sure it stays in there.”
So don't be fooled — this tax bill isn't just about making people pay more so corporations can pay less. It's also about limiting women's reproductive rights. In a way, then, it represents a microcosm of all of the GOP's recent goals.