A woman in Texas who got a $200-plus ticket for driving alone in the HOV lane is battling the fine using a novel argument based on Texas’ abortion laws and the recent Supreme Court decision: She’s saying her fetus was a passenger.
But while the ticket points out the absurdity of “fetal personhood” as a concept, accepting that premise could ultimately do more harm than good.
Brandy Bottone, of Plano, was rushing to pick up her son on June 29 and took the HOV lane, indicating she was carpooling with other people, she told the Dallas Morning News last week. Bottone, who is 34 weeks pregnant, was pulled over at a checkpoint and asked by a Dallas County sheriff's deputy whether anyone else was in the car, to which she responded there was.
“I pointed to my stomach and said, ‘My baby girl is right here. She is a person,’” Bottone told the Morning News, citing the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which effectively ended legal abortions in Texas.
Bottone said the cop “brushed her off” and waved her on to another cop, who gave her the $215 ticket but said the ticket would likely be dropped if she fought it.
“This has my blood boiling. How could this be fair? According to the new law, this is a life,” she told the Morning News. “I know this may fall on deaf ears, but as a woman, this was shocking.”
After the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision was handed down last month, the Texas Supreme Court ruled last week that a 1925 ban on abortion can once again be enforced.
In Texas, as in other states, “fetal homicide” statutes count a fetus as a person in determining whether a crime has been committed. A bill floated in the Texas Legislature in 2019, which ultimately failed to pass, would have classified getting or providing an abortion as a murder punishable by the death penalty.
Even in liberal California, a woman was charged in 2019 with “murder of an unborn fetus” after she had a stillbirth at eight months and the hospital reported that she had meth in her system. She spent 16 months in jail before a judge dismissed the charges.
A spokesperson for the anti-abortion rights group Texas Alliance for Life told the Morning News that because the Texas Transportation Code does not classify a fetus as a person and the fetus was not taking up an extra seat in the car, Bottone’s argument doesn’t hold weight.
But abortion opponents in other states have welcomed the legal recognition of fetuses as people for such purposes. And given the enormous sums of money involved in the legal battles over abortion, as well as the religious zealotry of many abortion opponents, it’s not hard to see why.
Georgia state Rep. Ed Setzler, who authored a 2019 abortion ban in that state that included a “fetal personhood” provision, said after the Dobbs decision that the law acknowledged fetuses as “living, distinct, whole human beings inside their mothers deserve full legal recognition,” he told Georgia Public Broadcasting.
“The LIFE Act is about recognizing the unborn child as being a legal person in social services setting, civil setting, child support setting, in a tax perspective, in terms of moms riding in HOV lanes,” Setzler told Georgia Public Broadcasting. “And naturally, if the child is a human being, they’re not going to be subject to abortion.”
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.