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Kentucky bill to grant child support payments for pregnancy advances — but with a major change

The Kentucky Capitol complex is shown from a high, far-away viewpoint, surrounded by trees and beneath a reddish sky.
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A bill that would make a significant change to how child support payments work is cleared for a state Senate vote.

Kentucky senators advanced an amended bill Tuesday that would let a parent pursue child support payments for the months they were pregnant, but only retroactively. Abortion rights advocates say the updated bill addresses their legal concerns about fetal personhood — an issue in the spotlight due to the Alabama court ruling on IVF.

The Kentucky Senate is moving forward with a bill that would apply child support payments to pregnancy, although the latest version of the proposal assuages some legal concerns raised by abortion rights advocates.

Senate Bill 110 originally would have allowed a mother to seek child support beginning at any time during the pregnancy — a policy change that effectively would require the other parent to pay child support for an embryo or a fetus.

The new version of the bill says such payments must be applied retroactively after a child is born, not during the actual pregnancy.

That means a parent could seek nine months of child support for their pregnancy, but the payments couldn’t be ordered until after the birth. And any such order must be instituted by the time the baby turns 1 year old.

“It allows for recovering child support dating back to the moment of conception, nine months prior to birth,” said Crofton Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield, who sponsored the bill.

Westerfield said he believes life begins at conception, and he thinks it’s reasonable to apply child support payments to the period of pregnancy since the costs of caring for a new baby start adding up before they’re born.

The Senate Families and Children Committee advanced SB 110 in a unanimous, bipartisan decision Tuesday. That clears it for a vote by the full Senate.

Louisville Democratic Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong said she voted for the bill in committee specifically because it was updated to apply only retroactively.

“I started my career as a legal aid attorney working in rural Kentucky and helped a lot of low-income, single moms with child support. And I believe that this bill is going to help a lot of folks who have given birth,” she said.

Chambers Armstrong said the updated bill addressed concerns she had about the legal implications of the original version.

“I had concerns that the prior version created an in utero cause of action that could have had some downstream consequences like what we saw in Alabama,” she said.

Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court came out with a ruling that said frozen embryos qualify as children under state law. Several Alabama health care providers quickly put further in vitro fertilization treatments on hold as a result.

That’s because granting legal personhood to an embryo or fetus essentially gives it the same rights as a person who has been born. This would have massive ramifications for how a wide range of laws are applied.

“We do not have (fetal) personhood currently in Kentucky,” Tamarra Wieder of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates told LPM News. “But if we move that way, we could see a lot of really terrifying legislation that would seek to criminalize, surveil and take away rights of the pregnant person during a pregnancy.”

Wieder said the substitute version of SB 110, approved by the Senate committee Tuesday, clears up some of Planned Parenthood’s initial concerns about the proposal.

“As long as the bill stays as the committee substitute, I am hopeful,” she said.

The bill still has to get the approval of the Kentucky Senate and House to become law. And it could be amended further during that process.

There’s proposed legislation in the House that mirrors SB 110’s original plan to allow child support payments to be collected during a pregnancy, instead of retroactively. So far, it hasn’t gotten a legislative committee hearing.

After Tuesday’s Senate committee meeting, reporters asked Westerfield about the Alabama court ruling related to IVF treatments. He said he believes “embryos are human lives.”

Westerfield and his wife expanded their family through IVF. He said he’s considering filing a bill during this legislative session to support IVF access for Kentuckians.

“I want to make sure that IVF remains available for families that want to utilize it, just like my wife and me,” Westerfield said.

Chambers Armstrong filed a bill this week to shield health care providers who provide IVF services from potential criminal liability as long as they meet the “professional standard of care.”

Reporter Sylvia Goodman contributed to this story.

Morgan is LPM's health & environment reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.

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