Kentucky bill that would allow child support to start with pregnancy advances


Lawmakers in Kentucky advanced a bill Tuesday that would grant the right to collect child support for unborn children, reflecting a broader effort in some Republican-led states to push legislation conferring a fetus with the same rights as a person.

The measure would allow a parent to seek child support up to a year after giving birth to cover pregnancy expenses. The bill won approval from the Senate Families and Children Committee, sending the proposal to the full Senate. It was the first vote on the legislation, which was introduced in mid-January and referred to the committee more than a month ago. Republicans have supermajorities in the Kentucky Senate and House.

Kentucky is among at least six states where lawmakers have proposed measures similar to a Georgia law that allows child support to be sought back to conception. Georgia also allows prospective parents to claim its income tax deduction for dependent children before birth; Utah enacted a pregnancy tax break last year; and variations of those measures are before lawmakers in at least four other states.

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A recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos are legally protected children spotlighted the anti-abortion movement’s long-standing goal of giving embryos and fetuses legal and constitutional protections on par with those of the people carrying them.

In Kentucky, Republican state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a staunch abortion opponent, is sponsoring the legislation — Senate Bill 110 — that would allow child support to be applied retroactively to cover a fetus.

“That child is a human life,” Westerfield told the committee. “And the support obligation begins as soon as that life begins. And I think we ought to be able to go after that.”

Kentucky Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield is seen during a State and Local Government Committee meeting at the Capitol on Feb. 19, 2020, in Frankfort, Ky. Lawmakers in Kentucky advanced a bill on Feb. 27, 2024, that would grant women the right to collect child support for their unborn children. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston, File)

The bill was amended by the committee to only apply to child support ordered within a year after birth, setting a strict time limit for seeking a court order dating back to the time of conception.

“So if there’s not a child support order until the child’s 8, this isn’t going to apply,” Westerfield said. “Even at a year and a day, this doesn’t apply. It’s only for orders that are in place within a year of the child’s birth.”

Some abortion rights advocates in Kentucky expressed concerns about the bill afterward.

“This type of bill sets the stage for personhood,” Tamarra Wieder, the Kentucky State director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, said in a statement. “SB 110 is a slippery slope and one that leads us in the same direction” as the Alabama court ruling.

“Instead of trying to push the idea of personhood via child support, this legislature should instead look at supporting pregnant people through expanded insurance, paid leave or any number of options that might provide more inclusive benefits,” she added.

One potential obstacle for the Kentucky bill is the additional expenses that county attorneys would incur to enforce child support orders applying to the unborn. In such cases, prosecutors could not use federal funding they typically rely on to cover expenses related to child support enforcement, Westerfield said.

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The bill’s supporters could seek a state appropriation to cover those additional costs. House and Senate leaders will hash out final details of the state’s next two-year budget in March.

For abortion opponents, the bill’s recognition of the unborn for child support purposes goes to the heart of an overarching issue, said Republican state Sen. Danny Carroll, the committee’ chairman.

“That’s where life starts,” Carroll said. “And that’s where that obligation to take care of that child should begin. And I think it’s a fundamental fairness issue that we do this.”



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