In an interview in The Intercept, Representative Justin Humphrey of Oklahoma said this in regard to women and abortion:
“I understand that they feel like that is their body, 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…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 has authored Bill HB1441, which has been voted down and rescheduled for hearings repeatedly in Oklahoma. The bill would require women to get permission from male partners before obtaining an abortion. This same bill, according to Humphrey, began as a way to enforce fathers to pay child support and he then decided that men should have a voice from the beginning. So a bill first intended to bring relief to women has somehow been re-realized as a bill that would effectively give the male partner complete veto power over the woman.
There are several things that disturb me about this point of view. First, it holds the woman solely responsible for a pregnancy. It also implies that if there is a pregnancy, it is due to the irresponsibility, or worse, assumed promiscuity, of the woman. It does not take into consideration rape and contraception failures and a host of extenuating circumstances such as health risk to the mother or a life threatening illness of the fetus. It does not consider that the prevention of pregnancy is in any way the responsibility of the man, although it wants to give all rights and veto power to him. It further implies that the decision by the man only comes into question when child support is an issue, as in, if the woman had prevented this, the man wouldn’t have to pay child support; which again puts the burden of contraception on the woman. And finally, and probably most importantly, it does not take into consideration Supreme Court decisions subsequent to Roe v. Wade (1973) that have already considered these factors.
So, if we look at this from merely a legal perspective, if there are already rulings and confirmations and Supreme Court decisions upholding those laws, these additional filings then become frivolous bills and lawsuits that counter laws that have already been decided and tie up the courts in years of litigation because someone has decided, once again, to see women as incubators instead of sentient human beings capable of making informed decisions. This reduces women to being nothing more than a Petri dish.
It isn’t so much the idea that all of this legislation is put out there that bothers me. These are complex issues that should be discussed. And, in any good relationship, these things would be discussed. But what happens in cases of rape or domestic violence where rape occurs? Or when bringing a child into a violent situation would be harmful or life threatening for either the woman or the child or both? These are decisions that only the woman in that situation can decide for herself. And the law must be there to protect her. Women are educated, hard-working beings who are neither an incubator without a brain, nor on the level of a farm animal that is bred without consent.
But I will pause here to look at the legal findings in cases that have already been decided by the Supreme Court. These cases have been carefully dissected from all angles and have some very sound and balanced decisions.
The Court held in Planned Parenthood of Missouri v. Danforth, 1976, that:
“The spousal consent provision…which does not comport with the standards enunciated in Roe v. Wade…is unconstitutional, since the State cannot ‘delegate to a spouse a veto power which the [S]tate itself is absolutely and totally prohibited from exercising during the first trimester of pregnancy.'”
In other words, requiring spousal consent for an abortion would give the power of the decision to that partner and remove it from the woman, which would be unconstitutional. I also find it interesting that the court equated the power of the state with the power of the spouse and decided that if the state could not delegate that veto power neither could the spouse.
The Supreme Court decided in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA. v. Casey, 1992:
“Section 3209’s husband notification provision constitutes an undue burden, and is therefore invalid…it cannot be claimed that the father’s interest in the fetus’ welfare is equal to the mother’s protected liberty, since it is an inescapable biological fact that state regulation with respect to the fetus will have a far greater impact on the pregnant woman’s bodily integrity than it will on the husband.”
The law looked at who would have the greater physical impact as a result of a pregnancy and decided (as they did in Planned Parenthood v. Danforth) that a far greater impact would fall on the woman; specifically the “pregnant woman’s bodily integrity.” Clearly these are not emotional or moral conclusions. These are sound decisions that have weighed the consequences and found in both cases that the burden falls more heavily on the woman.
Oklahoma has, according to The Intercept article, passed twenty other bills that have either been blocked by courts or are still in litigation. Many of these laws seek to circumvent the above Supreme Court rulings, including a clause in the legislation, which states that the husband of a woman seeking an abortion, if he is presumed to be the baby’s father, can file a civil lawsuit against the physician for monetary damages or “injunctive relief” ― a court order that would prevent the doctor from going ahead with the procedure.
But returning to Humphrey’s idea of a woman being merely a “host” and abdicating her right to make a choice because she has entered into a relationship, in which she should have assumed the possibility of a pregnancy, is absurd. But he even takes it one step further and seems to intimate that the father and equal partner in the creation of that pregnancy, is more qualified to make the choice than the woman because she is merely the “host” and reduces us yet again to property and farm animal status whose sole role is to breed and procreate quietly while the spouse makes all the important decisions.
Obviously these are all extremely complex cases and while no one wants to take away anyone’s rights away, we must remain aware that how we view one another becomes essential. We cannot win a moral or religious victory merely by reducing anyone to a one-dimensional caricature such as “host” just as we shouldn’t reduce a man’s participation as merely a sperm donor. If we become that reductive of a society we risk losing the humanity we pretend to uphold.
We must continue to fight these stereotypes.
We must continue to demand equal rights.
Joan Hanna has published poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, book reviews and essays in various online and print journals. Hanna’s first poetry chapbook, Threads, was named a finalist in the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Both Threads and her second chapbook, The Miracle of Mercury, are available through Finishing Line Press. Hanna has previously served as Assistant Managing Editor for River Teeth, Assistant Editor for rkvry Quarterly Literary Journal, Managing Editor for Poets’ Quarterly and Senior Editor at Glassworks. Hanna holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and teaches creative writing at Rowan University. You can follow her personal blog at Writing Through Quicksand.