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A Pregnant Woman's Driving Ticket Drives Fetal Personhood Debate

Last month, a pregnant woman in Texas was pulled over and given a ticket for driving alone in a high-occupancy vehicle lane. She argued she was not alone. Brandy Bottone told the officer she did not commit a violation, because Texas' abortion ban meant there were two people in her car, and she pointed to her belly. The stakes of the case might seem relatively low, but legal experts said the incident raised a host of complicated legal and philosophical questions about what defines a person and how shifting definitions might filter out into other aspects of policy, the New York Times reports. The Texas penal code recognizes an individual as including an unborn child “at every stage of gestation,” but Texas has not passed a so-called fetal personhood bill related to abortion. Some experts said it was doubtful that the state’s definition would protect a pregnant woman in a traffic stop. “There’s a difference between banning abortion and recognizing personhood legally,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California, Davis.

Bottone, 32, said she was not trying to make a statement about abortion or the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Bottone was expected to give birth to her fourth child in early August and sees a “34-week-old baby as a person.” Advocacy groups spoke of the case in the context of the broader abortion debate. Texas Right to Life, the largest anti-abortion organization in the state, said it supported Bottone along with the idea that fetuses “should be recognized as Texans in all areas of society.” Three states - Alabama, Georgia, and Arizona - have passed laws broadly defining an unborn child as a person in the past decade. Because the provisions were all passed in the era of Roe, when abortion was established as a constitutional right, they were immediately challenged in the courts and have yet to go into effect. Since the Supreme Court issued its ruling last month, Ziegler said, debates over fetuses and personhood have represented a next step for anti-abortion activists.

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