Kansas Voters Rejected an Abortion Ban. Now Republicans Want to Make Fetuses People.

The new GOP bill would function as a backdoor to effectively make fetal personhood state law.

Kansas Voters Rejected an Abortion Ban. Now Republicans Want to Make Fetuses People.

Almost two years ago, Kansas voters overwhelmingly upheld abortion rights and rejected an insidious anti-abortion ballot measure. Now, just a month or so after Kansas Republicans attempted to introduce an abortion ban anyway, Kansas Republicans rolled out a bill that would accord embryos with personhood rights.

The bill in question, which was introduced Monday, would amend the state’s family statute to include embryos—”unborn children” at “any stage of gestation”—in the legal definition of a child. The bill would require courts to add pregnancy-related medical bills and expenses to child support payments for “fathers.” Of course, “elective abortion” care is decisively excluded from those pregnancy-related medical bills. Legislation like this comprises a direct effort from Republicans to legally recognize fetuses as people—all while pretending to help pregnant people.

“This is a tactic that is used to make it easier to enact anti-abortion laws down the road,” Taylor Morton of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes told the Kansas Reflector, characterizing the bill as being “in direct opposition to broad public support for abortion access in Kansas.” But perhaps worse than an abortion ban, the bill would function as a backdoor to effectively make fetal personhood the law in the state.

If a fetus or embryo is a person, the government legally holds control over pregnant people’s reproduction. Miscarriage, pregnancy loss, and pregnancy, in general, become subject to even greater state scrutiny and, sometimes, criminalization. We’ve already been seeing this for years: You can lose a pregnancy after being physically attacked and face manslaughter charges. Some legal experts warn that under fetal personhood, a pregnant person traveling across state lines without their partner’s consent could be considered “kidnapping.”

Of course, because of how blatantly dystopian fetal personhood is on its face—especially in a country where a Black woman like Brittany Watts was reported to the police by her nurse and charged with a felony for miscarriage—anti-abortion legislators rely on sneakiness. Mackenzie Haddix, spokeswoman for anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, told the Reflector this bill will help pregnant women: “Overall, no woman should ever feel that abortion is her only option.” After all, who would say no to “child support” payments for pregnancy-related costs in this economy? 

But we’ve seen this before. Weeks after Roe v. Wade fell, Senate Republicans introduced a bill to put “fathers” of fetuses on the hook for child support; months before that, Republicans introduced the so-called “Unborn Child Tax Credit.” Last year, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Florida Republicans all proposed similar tax credits for embryos, supposedly as compensation for the costly and traumatic imposition of forced pregnancy and birth. But there’s nothing pro-women about legislation that treats embryos as people whose rights can supersede the pregnant person’s.

Last month, Kentucky Republicans introduced a bill identical to Kansas’, raising alarms among reproductive rights advocates both in Kentucky and across the country. The organization Pregnancy Justice called the bill “harmful” and added, “Expanding fetal personhood ultimately limits the rights of the pregnant person that the state pretends to protect.” Alabama Republicans have introduced a bill called the “Equal Protection Act” that would recognize embryos as people and abortion as murder. Alabama’s “Equal Protection Act” might be scarier on its face than the ostensibly generous offer of child support for embryos—but all of these bills draw from the same toxic well of fetal personhood.

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