Arizona Republican lawmakers want child support to begin during pregnancy
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- The Arizona state House on Monday approved expanding a law when child support has to be paid -- and in a way that some Democrats say is really designed to outlaw abortion.
Current law says courts, when making an initial award, can make it retroactive to the date when a divorce or support proceeding was filed. HB 2502 would require judges to go back even farther, to the "date of a positive pregnancy test confirmed by a licensed health care professional.''
Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, the sponsor of the measure, cited his own experience growing up with a single mother.
"For us, this child support meant having electricity, having groceries, being able to afford clothes to go to school, gas for my mother to get to work,'' he said. "At the end of the day, what this bill is about is helping families.''
But Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said she sees a hidden agenda. She said this is a tactic used by abortion foes who want to grant legal rights to the unborn.
And what happens, she said, is pregnant women "get erased'' as part of the agenda.
Rep. Alexander Kolodin, R-Phoenix, said he didn't understand all the fuss. He said HB 2502 is designed to help women who can use extra money to deal with pregnancy.
That argument didn't impress Rep. Analise Ortiz, D-Phoenix.
"I really don't appreciate sitting here and having to listen to men tell me what policies are best for mothers and children,'' she said. Instead, Ortiz said, lawmakers should listen to organizations representing women like the National Organization for Women and the National Council of Jewish Women who are opposed.
"Why?'' she continued. "Because we see it for what it is.''
HB 2502 is not unique.
Members of Congress tried last year to force states to apply child support obligations to the entire time during pregnancy, with a provision for judges to make these orders retroactive to the date that a doctor determined the child was conceived.
That measure did not survive. What Gress is trying to do it make it a state requirement.
Ortiz asked whether his measure would create "fetal personhood.''
"This bill is designed to provide additional resources for women, for mothers, new mothers,'' Gress responded. "So I'm not sure that concept has anything to do with this bill.''
"It could establish that life begins at conception,'' she told him.
"This change in the law could have implications far beyond child support, potentially leading to an outright ban on abortion,''
Ortiz said. "Is that your intention?''
Gress insisted that wasn't his purpose.
"My intention is to provide families with resources to cover the costs incurred during pregnancy,'' he said. "That does happen with outpatient visits and other preparations that come along.''
Ortiz said she's not buying the argument about wanting to help women, given what she said has been the failure of the Republican-controlled Legislature to enact or expand other programs.
"If we really want to help mothers and children, let's see policies on this (voting) board around universal health care, paid family and medical leave, an increase to the minimum wage, and safe and supportive housing solutions,'' she said.
And then there's the language of the bill that she sees as setting a bad precedent.
"When we start talking about prescribing rights into law that determines that a fetus is entitled to more rights than a pregnant person, we are setting the stage for an outright ban on abortion,'' Ortiz said. "This is a strategy we have seen from anti-abortion advocates.''
Kolodin, for his part, said HB 2502 can't be about banning abortion.
"State law already prohibits it,'' he said.
He pointed out that a territorial-era law outlawing the procedure except to save the life of the mother was not repeated after the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade saying women have a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy. And Kolodin is among several lawmakers who insist that last year's high court decision overturning Roe makes that law enforceable again.
Kolodin, who is an attorney, acknowledged that's not how the Arizona Court of Appeals sees it. The judges there concluded that a 2022 law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy takes precedence.
That case is now before the Arizona Supreme Court. But Kolodin said he is confident the justices will overturn the appellate court ruling and once again outlaw the procedure -- with or without what is in HB 2502.
This isn't Gress' first effort to provide some legal status for an unborn child.
He also proposed HB 2501 which would have allowed women to claim the state child tax credit for the months they were pregnant. But that measure has yet to be brought up for a roll-call vote.