Georgia says fetuses count as dependents, qualifying for tax deduction

Georgia says fetuses count as dependents, qualifying for tax deduction

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Under Georgia law, fetuses now have “full legal recognition” as living people. That means their parents can claim them as dependents on their tax returns — even before delivery.

The state’s department of revenue said Monday that it would begin recognizing “any unborn child with a detectable human heartbeat … as eligible for the Georgia individual income tax independent exemption” — amounting to $3,000. Taxpayers must be prepared to provide relevant medical records and documents if requested by the department.

The tax benefit is a byproduct of a law that went into effect July 20 banning abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. Georgia House Bill 481 was initially approved in 2019 but was deemed unconstitutional, given the protections granted by Roe v. Wade. Once that long-standing precedent was overturned in June, a federal appeals court cleared the way for Georgia’s abortion ban to become law. The court also agreed that “personhood” could be redefined to include fetuses.

The concept of enshrining personhood into antiabortion policy isn’t new. Among the states that consider embryos as distinct people are Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas and Missouri, the Associated Press reported. Others states — including Colorado, Mississippi and North Dakota — have tried to follow the suit, but the proposed pieces of legislation have so far failed, according to the AP.

EXPLAINER: What’s the role of personhood in abortion debate?

Georgia’s personhood provision is, for now, the most expansive. Not only does it grant tax breaks for fetuses, but it also requires that they be included in some population counts. It also imposes child support “on the father of an unborn child” — amounting to the “direct medical and pregnancy related expenses of the mother.”

But considering the prevalence of miscarriages and stillbirths, some wondered what the implications of the new tax policy could mean for those who experience pregnancy loss. Georgia State University law professor Anthony Michael Kreis speculated on Twitter that the state’s treasury could end up “handing out a lot of cash for pregnancies that would never come to term.”

Lauren Groh-Wargo, campaign manager for Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, questioned pregnancy whether loss could trigger an investigation. “So what happens when you claim your fetus as a dependent and then miscarry later in the pregnancy, you get investigated both for tax fraud and an illegal abortion?” she tweeted.

Neither the bill nor the guidance issued by the Georgia Department of Revenue addresses what would happen in the event of a miscarriage.

The law also creates other gray areas. For instance, what are the implications for couples using a surrogate? And when it comes to sperm donors or instances of uncertain paternity, who would be responsible for providing child support?

The Washington Post has contacted the Georgia Department of Revenue seeking clarification. The department’s guidance delineates that additional information — “including return instructions to claim the personal exemption for an unborn child with a detectable heartbeat” — will be issued later this year.

Stacey Abrams, a Democrat running for governor, said July 20 that she was “enraged” by the law that bans abortion after detecting a fetal heartbeat. (Video: The Washington Post)

Georgia’s ban prohibits most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, typically around the time when doctors can begin to detect cardiac activity. Exceptions include pregnancies caused by rape and incest, if a police report is filed, and pregnancies that would result in a woman’s death or serious harm, though not harm based “on a diagnosis or claim of a mental or emotional condition.” Additionally, the law doesn’t ban terminations for nonviable pregnancies, ectopic pregnancies or spontaneous abortions, commonly known as miscarriages.

Georgia’s law underscores stark differences among states and a dizzying lack of consensus when it comes to personhood.

Abortion is now banned in these states. See where laws have changed.

In Missouri, abortion is banned — except in cases of life endangerment — based on the “right to life of the unborn child.” At the same time, a divorce there can’t be finalized if one spouse is pregnant. The reason: The state’s divorce law doesn’t consider fetuses to be people, so there can’t be a “court order that dictates visitation and child support for a child that doesn’t exist,” the Riverfront Times reported.

Last month, a case in Texas made headlines after a pregnant woman was pulled over for driving alone in a high-occupancy lane. When the officers asked where the other passenger was, Brandy Bottone replied that her baby counted as a passenger, given the overturning of Roe and the state’s abortion policy.

“The laws don’t speak the same language, and it’s all been kind of confusing, honestly,” she told The Post.

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