Opinion: In post-Roe America, questions arise over the meaning of fetal personhood

Photo by Jason Janik/The Dallas Morning News via The AP / Brandy Bottone poses at her home in Plano, Texas, on July 6, 2022. Brandy recently contested a HOV lane violation based on her pregnancy status.

A Texas woman is fighting a ticket she received on June 29 for driving in a Dallas HOV lane. Under normal circumstances, this would not merit an editorial mention. But times have changed in Texas. The woman, Brandy Bottone, argues that, because she is pregnant, her fetus counts as a human with equal rights under Texas law. The Texas Legislature and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott made that bed with a big assist from the U.S. Supreme Court, now they must lie in it.

Get ready, America, because this is only the start of a tsunami of challenges to come as the nation grapples with the legal technicalities of anti-abortion laws before various state legislatures granting full personhood status to the unborn.

It's quite possible that hundreds or thousands of laws will now have to be revised to account for the legal personhood status various red-state legislatures have granted to the unborn.

"This has my blood boiling," Bottone, who is 34 weeks pregnant, told The Dallas Morning News. "How could this be fair? According to the new law, this is a life. I know this may fall on deaf ears, but as a woman, this was shocking."

The officer issuing the ticket asserted that the rules governing two-person occupancy of cars in the HOV lane require that they be people "outside of the body," Bottone said. But we checked the Texas Department of Transportation website stating the rules on HOV lane use, and nowhere does any such stipulation appear.

This is just a taste of court challenges to come as states that have outlawed abortion grapple with a definition of life that directly conflicts with existing laws. Take, for example, the decennial U.S. Census count. Some states conceivably could try claiming the unborn as part of their population as a means of gaining higher representation in Congress.

"In the tax code, the reason that you can't claim the baby on your taxes until it's born is because it is not a person yet," Carliss Chatman, a law professor at Washington and Lee School of Law, told National Public Radio. "But in a state that has a fetal personhood law, suddenly, you can put that fetus on your tax return."

Which means an extra deduction even if the baby isn't born until after the start of the new year. What parents would turn down an opportunity to slash a few hundred extra bucks from their tax bill? Some women in poverty might be able to claim extra Medicaid benefits based on the size of their family-to-be.

If this creates headaches for state lawmakers who insist on legal personhood for fetuses, constituents might consider sending them an aspirin in lieu of campaign donations. Perhaps with an added note: You created this problem, now it's yours to fix.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch