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Oklahoma lawmaker: pregnant women’s bodies aren't their own, because they are “hosts”

It’s the logic behind a bill that would require men to approve their partners’ abortions.

A March 2016 protest against a total abortion ban proposed in Oklahoma
Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

An Oklahoma state legislator, Rep. Justin Humphrey, is pushing a bill that would require a woman to get written permission from her sexual partner if she wants to have an abortion. The Supreme Court already struck down a very similar bill two decades ago, which means Humphrey’s bill would have almost no chance of holding up in court if it ever became law.

So why is Humphrey trying to pass it anyway? He explained his reasoning rather bluntly to Jordan Smith of the Intercept: Once a woman decides to be “irresponsible” by having sex, he said, her body is no longer entirely her own — because she will always be a potential “host” to a pregnancy:

Ultimately, [Humphrey] said, his intent was to let men have a say. “I believe one of the breakdowns in our society is that we have excluded the man out of all of these types of decisions,” he said. “I understand that they feel like that is their body,” he said of women. “I feel like it is a separate — what I call them is, is you’re a ‘host.’ And you know when you enter into a relationship you’re going to be that host and so, you know, if you pre-know that then take all precautions and don’t get pregnant,” he explained. “So that’s where I’m at. I’m like, hey, your body is your body and be responsible with it. But after you’re irresponsible then don’t claim, well, I can just go and do this with another body, when you’re the host and you invited that in.”

Humphrey told Smith that his original intent was to force fathers to pay child support from the moment of conception. That specific language was excised from the bill, he said.

But what remained was the disturbing extension of that logic: If a man and a woman have equal rights and responsibilities over the contents of the woman’s womb, then her womb — her body — is quite literally no longer her own.

When reproductive rights advocates talk about “bodily autonomy,” this is what they mean. The central question is: Does a woman have full rights to determine what happens to her body while she is pregnant, or only partial rights? If she is pregnant and does not want to be, can someone else — whether it’s the government or her sexual partner — force her to continue using her body to incubate a fetus, and then force her to use her body to birth it?

For many Americans, the question of when life begins and the morality of abortion is deeply complicated. But legally, the question is simple: Once a woman becomes pregnant, must she always be compelled to take on the extra medical risk of carrying that pregnancy to term?

For Humphrey, the answer is a clear “yes.” But the modern pro-life movement, which tends to insist on compassion for pregnant women, rarely puts it in such stark terms.

Passing likely unconstitutional abortion bans is par for the course in Oklahoma, and many other states

Guttmacher Institute

Last year, Oklahoma’s legislature passed a bill that would have made performing abortion a felony for doctors. Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed it — not because she disagreed with its premise, but because she thought it would likely be found unconstitutional and waste the state’s time and money in court.

However, that logic didn’t stop Fallin from signing a total ban on the safest, most common method of second-trimester abortion. That ban was, predictably, blocked in court for violating Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's 1973 decision that legalized abortion until a fetus is viable.

Humphrey’s bill is one of two anti-abortion bills the Oklahoma legislature is considering that will probably be found unconstitutional in court, Smith explains. The other bill prohibits “discrimination” against fetuses with abnormalities, a measure that has already been blocked in other states like Indiana.

Oklahoma lawmakers are clearly willing to pass extreme anti-abortion laws despite Roe. But Oklahoma is hardly unique in this regard. It’s very common for anti-abortion state legislatures to pass extreme abortion bans.

Sometimes it’s a statement of principle; sometimes it’s a hope that the bill might force a court challenge that will later overturn Roe. But in the end, it’s almost always expensive and futile.


Watch: Proof that labels like "pro-life" don't work

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