Oklahoma state Rep. Justin Humphrey appears to like two things a lot: wearing cowboy hats in public and deciding who should give birth. Luckily, he’s found a way to do both of those, having won seat in the Oklahoma legislature this past November. Not content to learn the lawmaking ropes before diving right into the legislative fray, Humphrey, a former corrections and probation officer, immediately introduced a number of bills, most of them dealing with changes to prosecuting drug crimes. But the bill that garnered the most attention was of course his proposal that no pregnant person should be able to obtain an abortion without first getting the permission of the person who impregnated her.
“Spousal” or partner consent bills have been occasionally proposed over the last, decade, often in Ohio or Missouri, and have always failed to make it through the legislature. Spousal notification was one of the handful of first trimester abortion restrictions challenged in the 1992 court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey and, notably, the one restriction that the Supreme Court said was definitely an unconstitutional burden to accessing a legal abortion. Since then, while the bill does get occasionally floated, it seldom makes it far in any state house where it has been introduced.
Regardless of the history and its obvious unconstitutionality, Humphrey believes he has an excellent reason for suggesting the male counterpart give final approval in order to terminate a pregnancy. “I understand that they feel like that is their body,” he told The Intercept in an interview. “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. 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.”
Unsurprisingly, Humphrey received a lot of blow-back for calling a woman a “host,” and he seemed honestly bewildered that people got so angry over it. "When I use the term host, it’s not meant to degrade women. I actually went and Googled that. I went to Webster, and I couldn’t find a better term,” Humphrey said in a follow up interview, according to News Channel 4.
You know what, Rep. Humphrey? You are totally right, pregnant women are just “hosts” and frankly, that’s something we should all embrace. Because that is exactly why we deserve the right to an abortion, regardless of whether the person who contributed to the pregnancy offers their approval or not.
Like Humphrey himself, I decided to hit up Google for a “host” definition of my own. And, probably like Humphrey, I received two different answers: “a person who receives or entertains other people as guests,” or “an animal or plant on or in which a parasite or commensal organism lives.” Honestly, whichever definition Humphrey was pointing to is just as apt.
If Humphrey is referring to the host and parasite relationship, well, any person who has ever been pregnant will recognize that scenario easily. As pregnancy progresses the fetus grows, and unlike the “commensal organism” that can take from its host and leave it unaffected, a parasite is far more likely to leave long-lasting health and physical impacts, not all of which are reversible. But pregnancy is the only form of parasitic infection where a lawmaker like Humphrey feels he is the best qualified to determine what medical treatment should be allowed and when it can be administered, rather than leaving it to a patient and doctor to determine the best outcome for the “host.”
Of course, Humphrey was very likely referring to the much more genteel definition, with a woman “inviting” the pregnancy into her life just as a gracious hostess offers her living room for a cocktail hour. For many in the far-right natural-law crowd, the act of having sex is in fact an open invitation to willingness to carry and bear a child, and whether or not contraception is used, female partners simply shouldn’t engage in the activity if they aren’t willing to follow through with birth as a potential end result.
Is consenting to sex the same as agreeing to have a baby? For most people, the obvious answer is “of course not.” But then there are those like Humphrey who disagree, calling women “hosts” and arguing that once a fertilized egg implants in the uterine lining she’s committed offering 38 more weeks of guest lodging.
If a woman is a “host” as the Oklahoma lawmaker so eloquently states, well, then so be it. Hosts are in charge of the events they throw. They determine the guests lists, they set the schedule, and most importantly, they decide exactly when the party is over and it's time for everyone to go home.
What Humphrey misses with his “host” comparison is that he is actually reinforcing the most important aspect of pregnancy and the biggest reason abortion needs to be legal: the autonomy of the pregnant person. Humphrey sees “hosts” as passive beings: the thing that a parasite feeds off, the host diminishing while the parasite grows and develops. His hosts are the docile ladies in pearls, party window-dressing that tops off the drinks and keeps the appetizer plates full while the menfolk swagger and jaw. In Humphrey’s world. a host loses every bit of her own power the moment that she becomes pregnant, subjugating herself and her needs below the fetus.
But in reality, a host has power. A host has autonomy. A host has the right to decide if a lesser organism that is residing in her body and doing her physical and emotional harm needs to be removed. A host gets to say if a guest has overstayed their welcome, or misunderstood an invitation. A host isn’t obligated to offer a guest a permanent bedroom just because they stopped in one night for dinner.
Inadvertent as it may have been, Humphrey is exactly right when he called women “hosts.” Pregnant women are hosts, and their bodies are their own to determine exactly when—or if—they wish to give birth.