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“Sneaky” personality? Wicker and Hyde-Smith sponsor unborn child support law

US Sense. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Roger Wicker of Mississippi are among a group of nine Republicans who unveiled on Wednesday Senate Bill 4512, The Unborn Child Support Act, which would require fathers to pay child support from “the first month in which the child is conceived, as determined by a physician”.

“I hope good legislation, like the Unborn Child Support Act, gets more support now that the Dobbs decision encourages us to think more seriously about supporting mothers and their unborn children,” Hyde-Smith said, making reference to the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States of June 24. who overthrew Roe c. Wade and allowed near-total abortion bans to take effect in states like Mississippi.

If passed, the bill would amend Part D of Title IV of the Social Security Act to “ensure that child support for unborn children is collected and distributed under the child support”.

“This legislation would help ensure women have the ability to receive child support from the earliest days of pregnancy,” Hyde-Smith said.

“It’s very sneaky”

However, proponents of reproductive rights are not rushing to approve the legislation. Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund co-founder Laurie Bertram Roberts told the Mississippi Free Press that she sees an effort to sneak up on ideas. Mississippi’s ‘personhood amendment’ failed in federal law.

In 2011, anti-abortion organizers attempted to amend the Mississippi Constitution to define the word “person” as “including every human being from the time of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof.” , theoretically prohibiting all abortions by donating eggs and constitutional fertilized fetuses. protections. Mississippi voters rejected him 58% to 42% at the polls that year.

Laurie Bertram Roberts, co-founder of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, said the Unborn Child Support Act would introduce “personality language” into federal law if enacted. Photo courtesy Laurie Bertram Roberts

In addition to banning all abortions, the Personhood Amendment could have banned in vitro fertilization and several popular forms of birth control that work by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting.

Still, anti-abortion Republicans have continued to push for personality legislation, including in another federal bill co-sponsored by Wicker called the Life at Conception Actthat would grant 14th Amendment rights to eggs and fertilized fetuses. After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization allowed states to implement extreme abortion bans, Americans United Board Member Chad Pecknold For Life, tweeted that it wanted a nationwide ban.

“‘Giving it back to the States’ is not our goal”, he writes on June 24, day of judgment. “We will not rest, we will not weary until we abolish abortion nationally as unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment.”

The current child support bill, Roberts told the Mississippi Free Press, is not as egregious as federal legislation like the Life At Conception Act.

“This isn’t the first time they’ve tried to squeeze this personality language into a national bill,” she said. “And see, the way they do it is very underhanded, the way they do it is under the guise of, ‘Oh look, doesn’t that make sense?’ Because it’s one of those arguments that comes from people who actually support abortion, which is why I tell people not to make those arguments, even jokingly, like, ‘If you want to make us all have babies, start child support at conception.’”

Hyde-Smith’s announcement indicated a survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Bucknell Policy Institute in June, 47% of Americans favored men paying child support “when the child is conceived.” Slightly more Democrats (53%) said they supported such a law than Republicans (47%), and women preferred it over men 52% to 39%. Of those who identified as “pro-choice”, 49% supported the legislation, while 46% who described themselves as “pro-life” said the same. The survey included 1,500 respondents.

Still, with Democrats in control of the U.S. House and Senate, Roberts thinks the legislation has a long chance of passing. That could change, however, if Republicans regain control of Congress in the November election.

In many states, including Mississippi, mothers can already receive retroactive child support. Roberts herself has said that she has personally received such court-ordered payments to cover her pregnancy and prenatal care in the past.

“Fathers have obligations”

Republican U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, the bill’s lead sponsor, said in Wednesday’s announcement that “caring for the well-being of our children begins long before a baby is born.”

“It starts from the first moments of life – conception – and fathers have obligations, financial and otherwise, during pregnancy,” he said.

Jackson Women's Health Organization
Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, closed on July 7, 2022, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overruled Roe v. Wade and authorized the state’s near total ban on abortion. take effect. Photo by Ashton Pittman

Other co-sponsors of the bill include Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Rick Scott, R-Fla., Roger Marshall, R-Kan., and James Lankford, R- Ok so. U.S. House Representative Mike Johnson, R-La., presented an accompanying bill in his room. However, no representative from Mississippi has signed it yet.

Several right-wing conservative and anti-abortion groups have also endorsed the legislation, including Susan B. Anthony List, March For Life, the Family Research Council and Concerned Women For America.

Not only as a reproductive rights organizer, but also as someone with personal experience of Christian fundamentalism, Roberts said she thinks one of the goals of the bill is to increase the connection between mothers and fathers during pregnancy to foster more nuclear families. The support of the Family Research Council and Concerned Women of America for the bill, in particular, reinforces that belief, she said.

“I can understand that the anti-abortion groups and FRC somehow care about abortion, but they are first and foremost a ‘pro-family’ organization. I just don’t think their real focus is on babies,” Roberts said. “And that’s just my experience as an ex-fundy and my critical focus after being in the field doing this work.”

The announcement says the Unborn Child Support Act “would provide flexibility for mothers, who do not want father involvement, by not requiring these mothers to receive child support”; “require judges to consult with mothers on payment plans and give mothers discretion whether or not to award child support payments retroactively”; and “requiring that all paternity tests be at the discretion of the mother and not be carried out if the test would endanger the child”.

“You Can’t Get Blood From a Turnip”

Roberts worries that paternity testing in cases that require establishing the identity of the father may prove prohibitively expensive for some women and pregnant people.

“If you’re not sure of the paternity of your child, the way it currently works is that every time you get a paternity test for your child, if it’s not the father, you’re charged. It’s not cheap,” she said.

Personality Vote Yes on 26 rally
The 2011 Personality Amendment would have amended the Mississippi Constitution to define the word person “to include every human being from the time of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof.” Voters rejected it 58%-42%. AP Photo by Rogelio V. Solis

Roberts also said she was concerned that one of the purposes of such a law would be to allow state-level social services departments to increase their own revenue by collecting more money from absent parents. through fees they already collect for child support.

“I don’t think they really care that people get help when they’re pregnant,” Roberts said. “I think their real goal is to get the language of the person into a bill; and secondly I think people think they care about you and want you to have support while you’re pregnant; and third for them to find another way to nickel and dime low-income, working-class non-custodial parents in a way that makes money for the state.

Roberts said she doesn’t see the legislation as a good example of “real political solutions.”

“Real policy solutions would be a social safety net, things that would actually change people’s lives in a very substantial and very stable way and really change child poverty and impact maternal mortality,” she said. . “But when you say, oh, we’re just going to start child support while you’re pregnant. So if I procreate with someone who has a low income, then I’m still poor. You can’t get blood from a turnip.

“…It’s the only solution Republicans have ever had for low-income people. It’s getting married, it’s making your poor little daddy pay for stuff. It is never nothing to work on poverty. There’s never a minimum wage increase, there’s never paid vacation, there’s never a “let’s expand Medicaid.” it’s never any of those actual structural things that we could do.

Neither Sense. Neither Wicker nor Hyde-Smith responded to a request for comment on this story before press time.

To see the MFP’s complete coverage and archives on abortion rights in Mississippi here and Jackson Free Press archives here.

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