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Fetal Personhood Laws Could Criminalize Common Health Actions

As roughly half the states have moved to enact near-total bans on abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, anti-abortion activists are pushing for a long-held and more absolute goal: laws that grant fetuses the same legal rights and protections as any person. Fetal personhood laws would make abortion murder, ruling out all or most of the exceptions for abortion allowed in states that already ban it, reports the New York Times. So long as Roe established a constitutional right to abortion, such laws remained symbolic in the few states that managed to pass them. Now they are starting to have practical effect. Already in Georgia, a fetus qualifies for tax credits and child support, and is to be included in population counts and redistricting.

The laws open up questions well beyond abortion, about immigration and who is entitled to public benefits. They have the potential to criminalize common health care procedures and limit the rights of a pregnant woman in making health care decisions. The Supreme Court decision returning the regulation of abortion to the states has opened new interest in the laws, and a new legal path for them. In Indiana, where this month the Republican-controlled legislature banned abortion starting at conception — one of the strictest laws in the nation — some conservative lawmakers objected that the law included exceptions for rape and incest. “This bill justifies the wicked, those murdering babies, and punishes the righteous, the preborn human being,” one lawmaker said, pushing instead for a fetal personhood law with no exceptions. “Personhood has always been the ultimate ambition of the anti-abortion movement,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor and historian of abortion at the University of California, Davis. “The movement very much wants a declaration that abortion is a human rights and constitutional rights violation. Not just that it’s a crime; that it’s unconstitutional. From a symbolic standpoint, that’s a really big deal to a lot of people in the movement.”


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