WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — Republican lawmakers have a new proposal after the Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade: Prospective fathers should be on the hook for paying child support from the moment of conception.
The new bill, introduced on July 13 in both the Senate and House, is called the Unborn Child Support Act, and would amend the Social Security Act "to give mothers the ability to receive child support payments while they are pregnant," according to a statement from Senator Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota.
The proposal comes as roughly two dozen states are restricting abortion access in the wake of the Supreme Court's June decision striking down the 50-year old precedent set through Roe v. Wade. Support programs for pregnant women and women with newborn children are lacking in many of the states that are restricting abortion. That includes the eight states that opted out of the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which covers pregnancy through postpartum for low-income Americans.
That's sparked criticism from Democrats and people who support reproductive rights, who note that banning abortion would force many women to carry a child to term without the financial or health resources necessary to care for it.
Women who are denied abortions are more likely to suffer from economic distress, including experiencing a higher rate of bankruptcy and eviction, according to a study that tracked 1,000 women who were denied abortion care.
"Mothers should be able to access child support payments as soon as she is supporting a child," Cramer said in the statement. He added, "Fathers have obligations, financial and otherwise, during pregnancy."
Although it's unclear whether the bill has any chance of moving forward in Congress, arguments over the status of a fetus reveal the complex new legal landscape around reproductive rights. For instance, earlier this month a pregnant Texas woman who was pulled over for driving in a high-occupancy vehicle lane argued that her unborn baby should count as a second person, citing the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling.
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The woman, Brandy Bottone, told CBS News that she viewed the incident as involving "two people" and that she planned to fight the traffic ticket in court.
"I don't think they really care"
Some reproductive rights advocates are sounding the alarm about the GOP proposal, noting that the effort could be a way to redefine a fetus as a person from the moment of conception. The idea of "personhood" has legal implications for the rights of a fetus versus those of the parent, and is a longstanding issue on both sides of the abortion debate.
"I don't think they really care about people getting support when they're pregnant," Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund co-founder Laurie Bertram Roberts told the Mississippi Free Press. "I think their real goal is to get personhood language into a bill."
The bill would work by amending the Social Security Act, which requires states to manage a public child support system that oversees issues such as determining paternity and collecting child support.
Under the proposal, a court could award child support payments prior to birth and retroactively to the point of conception, as determined by a doctor, according to the statement. It also wouldn't require women to ask for child support if they don't want the prospective father's involvement. Paternity tests would be up to the prospective mother, according to the statement.
The bill is co-sponsored by a number of Republican lawmakers, including Senators Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Marco Rubio of Florida.