In a move that has tax experts scratching their heads and anti-abortion groups celebrating, the House GOP released a tax bill Thursday that wants to allow an “unborn child” to save for college.
Under the new tax bill, fetuses can now be the beneficiaries of their own 529 plan, a college savings account designed to set aside funds to pay for school.
Parents who want to plan for their future children can already do this by naming one parent a beneficiary and then changing the account over to the child once she’s born. But under current tax code, beneficiaries of such accounts must have Social Security numbers — which fetuses don’t have.
“I don’t know how you can have an account for somebody who is not yet here, because somebody who is not here yet doesn’t have a Social Security Number,” said Margaret A. Munro, a tax consultant and author of the book 529 & Other College Savings Plans for Dummies. “This is trying to create standing as a person through the tax code.”
Abortion rights groups agree. By trying to classify fetuses as people in the U.S. tax code, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and NARAL Pro-Choice America say the Trump administration is masking an attempt to limit abortion.
“I object to the imposition of conservative ideology and the personhood fight and the abortion fight into a tax plan,” said Anna Chu, vice president for income security and education at the National Women’s Law Center. “I think it’s a dirty trick to do it under the cover of a 429-page bill when they couldn’t get it done in the open.”
If abortion opponents manage to pass the bill and its definition of an “unborn child,” Chu worries that they may point to it later on in order to fuel other efforts to categorize fetuses as people. Currently, no part of the tax code references in-utero children, Munro said, which appears to be exactly why anti-abortion groups want the provision.
“It’s a small increment in the momentum that we’re building to ensure that one day every child is welcomed and protected under the law,” Mallory Quigley, the communications director for the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, told NBC News. “We hope that it stays in the House bill and that it stays in anything the Senate puts out.”
Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of Cappex.com and expert on student financial aid, says the provision does make it easier for parents — they no longer have to change the beneficiary — but that without knowing who wrote the new provision, it’s unclear whether the author wanted to simplify the 529 process or to define personhood.
Munro questioned what would happen to the money in an account if the pregnancy failed, and the beneficiary disappeared. “There’s no guarantee this baby is going to be born alive,” she said. “You can’t fund a 529 for a deceased person. Why can you put them in for a person that doesn’t exist yet?”