Last month a pregnant woman was fined in Texas for traveling alone in the lane dedicated to cars with at least two passengers (i.e. the one for so-called car pooling). The woman, Brandy Bottone, defended herself by arguing that her 34-week fetus should be considered a person under state law, and that she didn’t deserve to be fined for this. Bottone’s claim refers to a Texas Penal Code rule that fetuses are to be considered as people.
Texas is a state led by the Republican party, historically composed of a very conservative fringe, and has always had very restrictive laws on abortion. Among these is precisely that contained in the penal code which recognizes the status of individuals to fetuses. Until a few weeks ago, these laws were in fact inapplicable due to the federal right to termination of pregnancy guaranteed by the “Roe v. Wade “. At the end of June, however, the sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court and individual states began to be able to legislate independently on the subject – or to be able to apply laws that they had already approved previously – without any constraints and with some paradoxical consequences such as that of the case of Button.
Bottone is 32 years old, with three children and a fourth on the way who should be born in August. Stopped by the Dallas local police in the multi-passenger car lane, she tried to convince the police officer that the fetus in her womb was for all intents and purposes a second person but she was still fined for. 275 dollars. Bottone appealed against the legitimacy of the fine and a court hearing on her case is scheduled for July 20.
Bottone told the press that he did not contest the fine for taking a political stand on abortion, but that he simply thought he had the right to drive in that lane, exactly as he did during his previous three pregnancies. “In light of everything that’s happened, I’m not trying to make a big political issue out of it, but it’s clear this is a baby,” he commented in an interview with CNN.
The New York Times explained that in Texas the penal code recognizes the status of person to fetuses “at every stage of gestation”: for example, if a pregnant woman is killed, the victims are counted as two rather than just one. However, this provision is limited to the penal code and a law has never passed (the so-called fetal personhood law) that establishes the status of person to fetuses at all levels, therefore beyond the cases governed by the penal code. This is the case of the highway code, which does not consider fetuses as passengers and for this reason, according to experts, it is unlikely that Bottone will be right.
In the United States, in the last decade, three states have legally recognized fetuses as people at all levels: Alabama, Georgia and Arizona, respectively in 2018, 2019 and 2021. As long as the “Roe v. Wade, ”which recognized the federal right to abortion, these laws were effectively blocked by the courts before they could be enforced, but now that things have changed the delicate definition of what a person is has become more urgent.
The recognition of the status of person to the fetuses from the first weeks of gestation is a very dear topic to those who deny the right to abortion, because in fact it allows to put the termination of pregnancy on the same level as a murder. But it also has several implications in other areas of daily life that have nothing to do with abortion.
For example, the definition of a fetus as a person from the first weeks of gestation can have a significant impact on issues such as in vitro fertilization (i.e. where the egg and sperm are combined in the laboratory) or the right to abortion in the event of rape. . But not only that: it could be necessary to redefine the method of counting the population, the taxation system or the allocation of economic support to families.
Some organizations that defend the right to abortion in the United States have commented on the case of Bottone pointing out the strong contradictions that derive from the overturning of the “Roe v. Wade “. Texas Right to Life, the largest anti-abortion organization in Texas, said it was on Bottone’s side and that all fetuses “should be recognized as Texans in every area of society.”
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