State Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, explains his proposed legislation that would allow expectant parents to claim a fetus as a dependant on their taxes once a doctor can detect a heartbeat in the womb. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Anti-abortion ‘heartbeat bill’ would also have tax impact for Georgians

Expectant parents could claim an embryo on their taxes as soon as a doctor detects a heartbeat in the womb if a proposal making its way through the Georgia Legislature becomes law.

House Bill 481 would outlaw most abortions after a doctor can detect a heartbeat in the womb, which is usually about six weeks into a pregnancy. The bill also includes provisions that would allow parents to claim a fetus, once a heartbeat is detected, on their state taxes as dependents.

While some of the legislation’s opponents are calling the provision “mind-boggling,” supporters say allowing the tax deduction is about establishing “personhood” for the unborn.

Lawmakers are waiting for a fiscal note from legislative staff to determine the expected cost to the state.

Claiming a fetus as a dependent on state taxes could be worth a few hundred dollars, according to estimates by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The impact to the state would include the deduction that could be given to parents of children conceived in April or later being allowed to claim a dependent the year before the child is born, as well as those who get pregnant but have a miscarriage or deliver a stillborn child.

State Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale, said she had trouble understanding the purpose of claiming a fetus as a dependent.

“That just blew me away,” she said. “From my perspective, I look at seen and unseen, born and unborn. I just don’t get the whole connection.”

State Rep. Ed Setzler, an Acworth Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said since he believes life begins at conception, a fetus should be counted just as a child who has been born.

“All we’re saying is if the child is in the womb, we should recognize the humanity of the child,” he said.

Several Georgia accountants and business professors either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.

Setzler likened the process to verify a pregnancy for a tax deduction to what is asked of women who apply for Medicaid — submitting a medically verified pregnancy test. Medicaid is the government health care program for the poor and disabled.

The Georgia Department of Revenue would be tasked with detailing the particulars of verification, Setzler said.

Dr. Carrie Cwiak, an Atlanta-based obstetrician/gynecologist, said it would be cumbersome and time-consuming for doctors to produce additional verification for pregnant women who want to file for the tax deduction.

“That means now you’ve increased health care expenditures, especially if you think about public hospitals who are going to have a lot of patients who would likely need the tax break,” she said.

Plus, Cwiak said, 25 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, so some would get tax breaks without actually giving birth.

State Senate Science and Technology Chairwoman Renee Unterman, who is shepherding Setzler’s proposal through the upper chamber, said the process of claiming a fetus after a miscarriage would be the same as claiming a child who might die 30 percent of federal credit, up to $315 for one child.

“We already do that for children,” the Buford Republican said. “That’s the argument of personhood — that (a fetus) is a viable person.”

Setzler said he’s unaware of any other states who have a similar tax provision in place, but U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, tried unsuccessfully to pass a federal tax credit for pregnant mothers last year.

Democratic lawmakers are skeptical of offering a tax break for children who have not yet been born.

State Sen. Jen Jordan, an Atlanta attorney, said she worried that allowing the deduction would open the state up to fraud attempts. She questioned what mechanism would be put in place to determine a woman actually was pregnant.

“I don’t think that the state would have the ability to deny someone a tax deduction if this law is passed,” she said.

The Senate Science and Technology Committee is expected to vote on the measure Monday, sending it to the chamber floor as early as this week.

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