Earlier this week, an Oklahoma Republican introduced SB 656, a bill to require that “the father or second parent of an unborn child” must pay for medical costs during the pregnancy of someone they impregnated. Sen. David Bullard, author of the SB 656, emphasized to The Oklahoman that the bill extends from the legislature’s recognition that “life begins at conception.”
“All we’re saying is that either in the womb or outside of the womb, we want fathers to step up and start paying for their part of that creation,” Bullard told the newspaper.
If a “father” refuses to make these prenatal child support payments, they could face six months in jail on their first offense and up to a year in state prison for a second or subsequent offense. The bill makes it clear the pregnancy-related “medical expenses” do not include abortion (which is banned in Oklahoma).
We’ve seen this before: Last July, shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Senate Republicans introduced the Unborn Child Support Act, requiring “fathers” of one-month-old embryos to make child support payments. Bills like this are purposefully deceitful, presenting as benign concern for pregnant people’s wellness or even as “pro-women”—but they’re just a backdoor way to enshrine fetal personhood, which legally recognizes embryos as people whose rights can supersede the pregnant person’s.
We’re already seeing this, of course—even before Roe fell, there were hundreds of cases over the last decades in which pregnant people have been criminalized for self-inducing an abortion or miscarrying, and consequently being blamed for the “death” of their fetuses. Rogue prosecutors misuse fetal homicide laws to investigate, prosecute, and even jail people for their pregnancy losses. When legal personhood is conferred upon embryos, pregnant people can become possible murder suspects if they need emergency abortion care to not die, seek out certain medications, or even lose a pregnancy after being shot in the stomach.
Under these circumstances, IVF, which requires disposal of unused embryos, becomes criminal; pregnant people’s travel across state lines without their partner’s consent becomes kidnapping; substance use or certain “risky” behaviors before a child is even born can become “child abuse.” In recent years, per research from Pregnancy Justice, criminal charges for pregnancy outcomes tripled since Roe was decided in 1973.
Bills like Oklahoma’s, as well as Congress’ Unborn Child Support and Unborn Child Tax Credit bills, or even a Texas bill to let pregnant people drive in HOV lanes, are explicitly marketed by their authors as valiant efforts to help “mothers” get vital accommodations and support. Of course, if that were truly their goal, they’d simply advocate more funding for pre and post-natal care or a more robust social safety net; certainly, they’d support abortion rights, so that all mothers and parents would be parents by choice.
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