Arizona GOP proposals to help pregnant women are really aimed at ending abortion, critics say
One state lawmaker promises that his suite of pregnancy-related bills are solely aimed at protecting pregnant mothers. But some skeptics say that his proposals are a backdoor attempt to codify fetal personhood into Arizona law.
Republican Rep. Matt Gress has proposed new laws that would allow women to collect child support back to the date of a positive pregnancy test; allow pregnant women to drive in the carpool lane; supply compensation to women who are raped and carry the baby to term; increase penalties for perpetrators of domestic violence against pregnant victims; and allow families that include a pregnant person to collect child tax credits.
"The theme that I sought to achieve with these bills is to support women and children and families," Gress told the Arizona Mirror.
He denied that any of them were intended to establish fetal personhood, something that the anti-abortion movement has been attempting for years.
Gress's House Bill 2502 would allow a parent who has been awarded child support to receive retroactive payments, back to the date of a positive pregnancy test. Gress said that the average pregnancy requires around $2,900 in out-of-pocket medical costs.
During a Feb. 1 House Judiciary Committee meeting, Rep. Melody Hernandez, D-Tempe, asked Gress if he was prepared for his bill to be shot down in court, like Arizona's 2021 fetal personhood bill that was blocked by a federal judge in July.
"I am not interpreting the legislation at all relating to that," Gress answered.
Hernandez told the Arizona Mirror that she found Gress's answer confusing.
"He's either pretending to not understand or he truly doesn't understand the fetal personhood concept," she said. "He either genuinely doesn't know or he's pretending to not know, because it's a strategy being used by the GOP to incrementally get us to the point where abortion is no longer legal in Arizona at all..
In August, Republicans in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate introduced bills similar to Gress', at the urging of anti-abortion groups. One of the Senate bill's sponsors, Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, explicitly said that the bill was intended as a way to establish "that life begins at conception."
Gress said that everyone comes to the legislature with different views and might have varying interpretations of proposed legislation.
"If someone thinks it's doing something different than what the initial purpose is, that's up to them to interpret what they think the bill accomplishes," he said.
In addition to the fetal personhood issue, Rep. Analise Ortiz, D-Phoenix, pointed out during the committee meeting that, if a father was awarded child support and attempted to utilize this proposed law, he could potentially force the mother to disclose personal health information to the court.
Gress's bill passed the Judiciary Committee on a 5-3 vote along party lines.
Hernandez told him she believes that "your bill is dead on arrival" if it reaches Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, adding that legislative Democrats and the governor were ready to work on "true reproductive justice."
"I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he genuinely does want to help people, just this bill in this form is not going to do what he's hoping it will do," Hernandez said.
Another Gress proposal, House Bill 2417, would allow pregnant women to drive in the HOV lane, essentially counting her as two people, after she or her doctor submits documentation to the state Motor Vehicle Division.
Ortiz said it would be dangerous to allow the government to create a database of pregnant women just so they can receive a placard to drive in the carpool lane. That could open the door for the government to start tracking pregnancies, and possibly putting women who miscarry in danger of being prosecuted under the state's abortion laws.
Gress has proposed several other bills with a focus on pregnancy, saying they were inspired by constituents as well as his experiences growing up as the youngest of four siblings with a single mother.
"I have immense respect for her and what mothers go through to do the best for their kids," Gress told the Mirror.
His House Bill 2500 would provide compensation to a woman who is impregnated during a sexual assault and then carries the pregnancy to term. The woman would be provided with economic support through the baby's first year.
Another of his proposals, House Bill 2427, would lower the barrier to file aggravated assault charges against someone who knowingly attacks a pregnant person, and increase the sentencing for a person who hurts a pregnant victim during a domestic assault.
Then there's Gress' House Bill 2501, which would provide a child tax credit to a woman or her spouse during the year before her child is born, prorated for the number of months she was pregnant during that year.
Ortiz said she doesn't buy Gress' insistence that these bills together are solely aimed at helping women and their families.
"It has been a very clear strategy of the anti-abortion movement to disguise their real attempts to ban abortion outright with these bills that seem non-nefarious in the surface, but when you dig a little deeper and you understand the history and the intricacy of this movement, it starts to become very clear what they're trying to do," she said.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.