Virginia lawmaker introduces legislation to count fetus as passenger in HOV lanes

Story at a glance

  • The bill follows a similar proposal in Texas that would permit pregnant women to drive in high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

  • The proposals come amid a growing debate about fetal personhood.

  • Some advocates who oppose abortion argue the unborn should have the same rights as those already born.

A new Virginia bill would count a pregnant person’s fetus as a separate individual, permitting the pregnant person to use high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on highways. The bill was proposed by Republican lawmaker Nick Freitas.

HB 1894 requires the Department of Transportation to establish a process so pregnant women can certify their pregnancy and have the information linked to a toll collection device, like an E-Z pass, according to the bill’s text.

It is the second such bill to be introduced in the United States following the overturn of Roe v. Wade.

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Last year, Texas lawmakers introduced HB 521, which would permit a pregnant driver to use any high occupancy vehicle lane “regardless of whether the vehicle is occupied by a passenger other than the operator ’s unborn child.”  These lanes require drivers to have at least one passenger in their car.

However, the Texas bill never advanced in the state’s legislature.

Both bills come amid a growing debate over personhood laws, or laws that classify the unborn as people with the same rights as those already born.

Some advocates who oppose abortion argue all fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses should be considered people.

Those who support abortion rights say personhood laws could have far-reaching consequences, potentially threatening in vitro fertilization and access to abortion.

The Texas law was introduced after a pregnant woman argued she was lawfully driving in an HOV lane because her unborn child counted as a passenger.

Freitas pre-filed the Virginia bill in the General Assembly on Tuesday, though it is unlikely to advance, given Democrats control the upper chamber of the state legislature and Republicans control the lower chamber.

Although the two bills are the only in the country to address the personhood debate through vehicle occupancy regulations, eight states have introduced bans on abortion by establishing fetal personhood, according to The Guttmacher Institute.

Only one of the bills was enacted, but it was later blocked by a federal judge.

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