Senate Republicans Shoehorn Anti-Abortion Measure Into Tax Bill

Emily Peck
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn introduce the Republican tax reform plan at the Capitol on Nov. 9.  (Aaron Bernstein / Reuters)

Republicans are making tax reform about abortion rights.

A widely criticized provision that would give fetuses access to college savings plans made it into the draft tax bill Senate Republicans released last week.

The measure is similar to one included in the House’s tax plan. The provision would enable an embryo or a fetus ― defined by the proposed legislation as “an unborn child” ―  to be named as a beneficiary to a 529 college savings account, a tax-advantaged way parents can invest money to save for education costs.

It’s already relatively easy, under current tax law, to open a 529 before a child is born. The real intention here is to sneak anti-abortion language into federal law, according to feminists and abortion rights advocates.

The tax bill’s language is part of a broader strategy employed by the White House and Congressional Republicans to chip away at Roe v. Wade, says Sarah Lipton-Lubet, vice president for reproductive health and rights at the National Partnership for Women and Families. For years, anti-abortion activists have tried (and mostly failed) to get “personhood” laws passed that would give embryos and fetuses rights ― ultimately making it a crime to abort them.

This time around they’re trying to worm “personhood” language into other places. These include a draft strategic plan for the Department of Health and Human Services released last month that says the department’s mission is to protect  “Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception.”

Personhood language also makes an appearance in a bill under consideration by House Republicans that would ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. If a physician performs an abortion after that and “thereby kills a human fetus,” he or she would be subject to jail time, under the proposal.   

“The hope is that if they throw enough anti-abortion language at the wall something is going to stick,” said Lipton-Lubet. “It’s a dubious strategy. It’s an affront to women.”

She notes that overall the tax plan doesn’t offer much relief to women and families. A proposed increase to the child tax credit, for example, is mainly geared to benefit upper-income earners. The Senate also is proposing to get rid of a widely used tax deduction on state and local taxes, which would likely wind up hitting local services like schools.

The Senate’s bill goes out of its way to define a “unborn child,” according to a passage from the bill sent to HuffPost by a representative of the Senate Finance Committee: “The provision provides that an unborn child may be treated as a designated beneficiary or an individual under section 529 plans. An unborn child means a child in utero. A child in utero means a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.”

Under current law, you can open a 529 account before a child is born. A parent-to-be would simply list him or herself as the account’s beneficiary, and change the name on the account once the baby arrives.

Still, anti-abortion groups hailed the measure when it popped up in the House’s bill. “The inclusion of the unborn in 529 college savings plans recognizes the humanity of the unborn child and gives parents the opportunity to save for a child’s education from the earliest stages of his or her life,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, in a statement released after the House’s tax bill came out.

Her group was also adamantly opposed to another provision of the House’s tax plan that would’ve killed a tax credit given to parents who adopt. That measure did not make it into the Senate’s bill.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.