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Another Attack on the Right to Abortion—in a Tax Bill?

We have seen quite a few attacks on abortion and women’s health recently, but the latest attack on abortion reflects the extremes that this Administration and its GOP allies in Congress will go to attack the constitutional right to abortion. The most recent attack comes in the form of language in the recently released GOP tax bill that would allow an “unborn child” to be a recipient of a 529 college savings plan.

The current tax code already allows expectant parents to create a 529 savings plan in their own name and then switch the beneficiary when their child is born.

But, this language really has nothing to do with taxes or college savings. The point here is to embed in law a definition of “unborn child” that will set the stage to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade. Specifically, the bill defines an “unborn child” as a “child in utero,” which it then defines as a “member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.”

This is nothing more than an attempt to advance an extreme anti-abortion agenda through any available legislative or administrative vehicle. It follows a long line of GOP attempts, including failed attempts at the state level, such as failed ballot measures in Mississippi, Colorado, and  North Dakota—and on the federal level, a hearing last week on an arbitrary abortion ban bill, which featured a sonogram—to advance scientifically unsound “personhood” bills.  Another example of a federal attempt to embed this kind of language is evidenced in the new strategic plan released by the Department of Health and Human Services, which included language about protecting the unborn.

So, if these measures are so unpopular, why do they keep trying to push this kind of legislation? They think if they can get enough laws to recognize fetal personhood, it will convince the Supreme Court to revisit – and overrule – Roe v. Wade. That’s because a key part of that landmark decision recognizing a woman’s constitutional right to abortion included the Supreme Court’s finding that fetuses are not “persons.” These extremists believe if they can get enough laws to say otherwise, the Supreme Court will be forced to change its mind.

While that is a questionable strategy, it reflects the reality that the goal here is not to actually ensure that families can create 529 plans for their future children (again, current law already allows families to do this), but to strategically set the stage to take away the constitutional right to abortion.

The repercussions of personhood language include not only attacks on the constitutional right to abortion, but could—depending on the exact wording—possibly have broad implications for access to other crucial health services, like birth control and in vitro fertilization.  That’s why whenever such initiatives have been put to a vote, voters have overwhelmingly rejected them.

The U.S. Supreme Court spoke clearly on this issue over forty years ago and that precedent has stood. However veiled attacks on the right to abortion may be—or however well- hidden within tax legislation they may be—we will not stand for continued attacks on the constitutional right to abortion.

It's time for change, and we must act now. Time's up.