The tax overhaul that the House passed earlier this month includes a rhetorical gift to the anti-choice movement in a provision that explicitly allows expectant parents to set up a college savings account for their “unborn child.” (Parents are already able to open these accounts while pregnant and transfer them to their children once they are born.) But the anti-choice movement is also aiming to put fetal personhood language in more parts of the tax code by expanding the child tax credit to the “unborn” as well.
Shortly after the House bill was unveiled, March for Life president Jeanne Mancini told Politico that the college savings proposal “is a huge leap forward for an antiquated tax code, and we hope this is the first step in expanding the child tax credit to include unborn children as well.”
The Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser praised the idea in an op-ed in The Hill on November 13, writing, “Recognizing and embracing unborn children as the family members they are, in the tax code as in other federal laws, is just common sense.” Dannenfelser credited the idea to Sen. James Lankford, who had floated the plan to Politico a few days earlier. Lankford, Politico wrote, “declined to reveal details but said ‘it’s a little more complicated’ than extending the tax credit to a fetus, a contentious proposal that would get into abortion politics.”
Dannenfelser wrote that the child tax credit proposal would be a good defense against accusations that “pro-life” politicians aren’t doing enough to support families once children are born: “Pro-life Republicans especially should get behind expanding the CTC to cover unborn babies. If they are infuriated by accusations that pro-lifers only care about people until they are born, here’s an excellent opportunity to prove that’s blatantly false.”
In an alert to members this week, the Family Research Council also jumped on the CTC proposal, urging activists to push the Senate to “ensure that the tax code–specifically the child tax credit–covers all children including unborn children.”
These organizations point out that expanding the child tax credit to pregnancy would help ease the financial burden of preparing for a newborn. But there would be ways to do that without wading into abortion politics. The wording of these group’s proposals makes it clear that they are thinking about more than just providing tax relief for families. As Richard V. Reeves and Katherine Guyot of the Brookings Institute wrote about the college savings proposal:
Giving a fetus legal status in the tax code would be an extraordinary and unprecedented move. Leaving aside some tricky questions on implementation (what date could a 529 be established?), what matters here are the broader implications of giving fetuses this new official status. There is clearly a much deeper motive behind this proposal than a merely technocratic change one small part of the tax code.
The child tax credit proposal also has some tricky implementation questions. For instance, if an “unborn child” is counted in the plan, would a pregnancy that is not carried to term because of a miscarriage or an abortion still count toward a tax credit?