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There are many consequences of re-defining fetuses into people with full legal rights | Cerabino

There are many consequences of re-defining fetuses into people with full legal rights | Cerabino


Frank Cerabino | Palm Beach Post

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent landmark ruling that wiped out the Constitutional protection of women to get abortions has revived the efforts to redefine what it means to be a person.

The Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization didn’t ban abortions in Mississippi but allowed the state to severely limit them and opened the door for complete bans being passed by state governments.

For Personhood Florida and other anti-abortion groups, the Dobbs ruling was a first step that didn’t go far enough. They want all abortions made illegal by law and are calling on Gov. DeSantis and the state legislature to convene a special session to pass the Florida Personhood Act.

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This act would define life as beginning at conception and create a new legal definition for what it means to be a person.

"The God-given right to life of every human being at any state of development shall be recognized and protected," the group’s petition form reads.

The consequences of fetal personhood

Defining fetuses as people sets up all sorts of consequences, from trivial to profound, that warrant consideration.

For example, a pregnant woman in Texas has decided to contest a $275 traffic ticket she received for driving alone in a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane. She wasn’t alone, she contends, if her fetus gets to count as a person.

Florida’s statute says the HOV lane means "a lane of a public roadway designed for use by vehicles in which there is more than one occupant unless otherwise authorized by federal law."

So, if Florida lawmakers redefine people to include everything from a loose collection of cells, will women of childbearing age be assumed to be pregnant with the vehicle’s other "occupant" while riding alone in the HOV lane?

And will the Virgin Voyages adults-one cruise ships have to exclude pregnant women from boarding with their unauthorized children on the ships?

States already changing life-defining laws

Some states already have a jump on this. Tennessee lawmakers two years ago suggested there should be a "special census" to count the unborn.

And Alabama passed a "personhood law" in 2019 that subsequently empowered a teenager, Ryan Magers, to file a wrongful death lawsuit against his 16-year-old girlfriend, on behalf of "his deceased child, Baby Roe."

The lawsuit argued that "under Alabama law, an unborn child is a legal person." A probate judge ruled in the boy’s favor, finding that the aborted fetus from his girlfriend’s womb was a person with full legal rights that allowed the boyfriend to be the legal representative of the dead fetus’ estate in probate court.

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The teenagers broke up. And the boy’s lawsuit on behalf of the early-stage embryo aborted by a pill taken by his then-girlfriend was eventually dismissed by the Alabama Supreme Court in 2020. The court’s decision relied of the then-existing constitutional protection of abortion under Roe v. Wade.

With that protection no longer in effect, fetal personhood could have all sorts of effects.

Florida law empowers county medical examiners to conduct "examinations, investigations and autopsies as he or she deems necessary" in the event of deaths within their jurisdiction.

They include people who die unattended deaths, deaths by "criminal abortion," and deaths that may be of "suspicious or unusual circumstances."

If fetuses are people, women who experience miscarriages could be treated as criminal suspects who find themselves the subject of intrusive investigations generated by anonymous calls from nosy neighbors.

It’s worth noting that many zealous champions of fetuses are frequently the first to cry "socialism" when it comes to spending tax dollars to support the numbers of impoverished children of the born variety.

In Florida, about 23 percent of children live in poverty, with 34 percent of them being born to parents who lack stable employment, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation 2020 Kids Count Profile.

Creating needy Florida persons

Eliminating abortion and counting fetuses as children at the point of conception would mean an explosion of newly defined impoverished children in the state, children who would be eligible for government benefits such as Medicaid, Florida Food Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance of Needy Families (TANF) while still in the womb.

More poor, pregnant Florida women will be eligible for government benefits if their household size could be inflated by counting a fetus as a child.

And if an undocumented woman arrives at the U.S. border, where she conceives a child, does that mean she can’t be expelled? After all, expelling the pregnant woman also means deporting her fetus, who may have U.S. citizenship rights under the 14th Amendment, which may logically be extended to include the rights of a "fetal person" conceived in this country.

And shouldn’t all these new fetal people each have their own Social Security numbers, so they can be claimed as dependents for IRS purposes during the tax year they’re conceived if it differs from the year they are born?

Brandy Bottone, the pregnant Texas woman who is fighting her HOV lane ticket, has demonstrated the vagaries of personhood that might be faced in the future.

The Texas Alliance for Life is not backing Bottone, as might be expected. Instead, the anti-abortion group has taken the position that personhood of fetuses may be valid in the penal code but not in the traffic code.

"A child residing in a mother’s womb is not taking up an extra seat," the group’s spokesperson told The Dallas Morning News. "And with only one occupant taking up a seat, the case did not meet the criteria needed to drive in that lane."

Frank Cerabino is a columnist at the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach him at [email protected] Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.

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