Demonstrators hold a vigil in support of children fleeing violence in Central American outside the White House November 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
Demonstrators hold a vigil in support of children fleeing violence in Central American outside the White House November 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Unborn Child Support Act may make parents pay for children during pregnancy

A new bill in the Senate that would allow mothers to collect child support from the moment of conception has riled up more furor in the abortion debate on…


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Under the slogan “life begins at conception,” the Unborn Child Support Act is in the making. Introduced by North Dakota Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer, the bill would allow a court to mandate that fathers pay child support before their child is born.

“Our laws should reflect that truth, especially when it comes to helping mothers provide for the welfare of their children,” said Cramer in a press release. “If we are going to be pro-life, we should be pro-all-of-life and ensure we give moms the support they need.”

The legislation will still allow for expecting mothers to turn down child support or a paternity test before the birth of their offspring if they don’t want the support or involvement of the father. 

But, if the mother requests for child support and the paternity of the child is established, the law will make fathers pay for retroactive child support dating back to the time of conception as determined by a doctor.

The Republican-sponsored bill is seen by pro-choice organizations and politicians as a pro-life measure aimed at creating fetal personhood under the law — it is supported by the Susan B. Anthony List, as well as the March for Life organization, both pro-life organizations that seek to end abortion. 

“ [Fetal personhood] is designed solely to criminalize abortion, including for victims of rape and incest, and in life-threatening emergencies,” Planned Parenthood Action wrote.

“Declaring an embryo to be a full legal person would ban common forms of birth control, like the pill and the IUD, as well as emergency contraception. This measure could prevent a person with a life-threatening pregnancy from getting the health care they need,” said the nonprofit organization, which provides sexual healthcare in the U.S. and globally. 

However, for the bill co sponsor, Senator Steve Tom Cotton from Arkansas, the Unborn Child Support Act is “straightforward legislation” that “protects the dignity of every human being and ensures that we support mothers in the process.”

In a Democratic-controlled House, the odds of this Republican-backed bill passing are slim, but for now, the Unborn Child Support Act awaits a potential vote in the Senate Finance Committee.

What is child support exactly?

After a divorce, or if one or both parents do not have custody of the child, a progenitor must pay —voluntarily or by court order — a specified amount to the child’s primary caretaker from birth until the age of 18 to help with the cost of raising the offspring. 

Child support has been mandated by law since 1975, and based on the U.S Census Bureau, 21.4% of the mothers and 18.8% of the fathers paying child support in 2013 were Latino, with 7.2% of all of those who identify as Hispanic being Afro-Latinos.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Child Support Enforcement, by 2017, $33 billion were being paid to cover more than 15 million children’s needs for housing, education, food, transportation, entertainment, and apparel.

Requiring child support by law was aimed at reducing poverty and financial insecurity among children and caretakers, as well as public spending on welfare by easing the burden of single-parent families and positively increasing the chance of a parent-child relationship in the case of parents who are separated. 

How would this bill change things?

If the Unborn Child Support Act passes, it will award child support payments while the child is still in the womb, making it retroactively valid up to the point of conception as determined by a physician.

For Sen. Cramer, this will present three major changes in the current legislation for soon-to-be mothers by:

  • Providing flexibility for mothers who do not want the involvement of the father by not requiring them to receive child support.
  • Requiring judges to consult with mothers on payment plans and give mothers discretion as to whether or not child support payments will be awarded retroactively.
  • Mandate that all paternity tests be at the discretion of the mother and not be conducted if the test would put the child at risk.

But, not everything is what it seems. As things stand, without a retroactive pay from conception, people are already struggling to agree and pay.

The National Parents Organization says only about half of the separated couples with children have a custodial order governing who'll pay for the kids, and from those who do, at least $10 billion is probably going uncollected due to the difficulty for many who are low-income to make the payments. 

As things stand, Pennsylvania parents face penalties such as jail time for up to six months, a fine up to $500, up to six months probation, and seizure of bank accounts or workers compensation awards. Other penalties include the seizure of federal and state tax refunds, suspension of any kind of recreational and/or driver’s license, interception of lottery winnings, credit bureau reporting, the publication of your name in the newspaper as a delinquent parent, and liens against any real property, as well as passport denial.

Likewise, in the case of immigrants, not paying child support or retroactive child support can complicate the naturalization process.  

According to Project Citizen, “failure to support dependents” has been interpreted as a “willful failure or refusal to support one’s children, unless extenuating circumstances are proven.” 

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) considers that the “obligation to support dependents does not come from a court order; it comes from being a parent.”


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