State Senator Steve Martin, a Virginia Republican, created a firestorm when he referred to pregnant women as “hosts” in a Facebook post responding to a Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition’s Valentine’s Day plea for reproductive autonomy. His words, which have been edited as a result of the ensuing media frenzy, were not well-received and, according to some, may have been a real indication of how anti-choice politicians really feel about women. In reality, though, despite his offensive metaphor, the lawmaker also touched on something every reproductive rights advocate should support, but that was overshadowed by his comment about women as vessels.
Martin’s original post was mostly a play off of standard anti-choice, anti-abortion rhetoric at initial glance. “You can count on me to never get in the way of you ‘preventing’ an unintentional pregnancy,” he wrote. “I’m not actually sure what that means, because if it’s ‘unintentional’ you must have been trying to prevent it. And, I don’t expect to be in the room or will I do anything to prevent you from obtaining a contraceptive. However, once a child does exist in your womb, I’m not going to assume a right to kill it just because the child’s host (some refer to them as mothers) doesn’t want it to remain alive.”
Martin edited the post, changing “the child’s host” to “the bearer of the child.” The metaphor only changed a little, despite it. As Ed Kilgore wrote at the Washington Monthly, “Once a zygote exists, it’s a person and a baby and has rights equal to (if not superior to, because of its ‘innocent’ nature) the mother, or the ‘bearer of the child,’ or the ‘host,’ or however you want to put it. No interest of the woman in terminating the pregnancy (or even preventing it, if that happens after fertilization) other than preservation of her own life can possibly trump that ‘right to life.’”
Ironically, Kilgore actually inadvertently does the same thing that I’m actually praising Martin for bringing to the forefront. Kilgore calls the pregnant person first “the mother.” Martin, as offensive as his comments are, does perhaps inadvertently make an important point when he wrote “some refer to them as mothers.”
A pregnant person is not necessarily a mother.
For those of us who track the pro-life movement, both their legislation and their actions at the clinics, we know that to the anti-choice activists, a pregnant person is immediately and automatically a “mother.” The most ubiquitous example are the so-called “sidewalk counselors” with their signs stating “Abortion doesn’t make you unpregnant, it makes you the mother of a dead baby” or screaming “Mommy, please don’t kill me!” at abortion patients. Other instances are more subtle, such as the numerous anti-abortion bills referring to the “health of the mother” or other examples, codifying that relationship between a pregnant person and the embryo. South Dakota even went as far as to make that “mother and child relationship” a legal reality in one bill, allowing the state to declare every pregnant person a “mother” and have doctors tell her she is.
This insistence that a pregnant person is a mother, and that it is rejecting a woman’s own nature to refuse to be or remain pregnant is one that permeates the anti-choice culture and inspires many of their efforts to end access to safe legal abortion, as well as access to birth control. By turning every female person into either a “mother” or a “future mother” they are able to enforce their own traditional gender roles onto the rest of the country. It’s when we, who believe in bodily autonomy and the right to decide when and if to bear children, fall into the same vernacular that we have a serious problem.
How difficult is it to recognize a pregnant person as simply that: one who is pregnant? Not mother, not host, not bearer of the child. If there is any doubt that granting legal rights to any potential life at absolutely any stage of pregnancy or even pre-pregnancy is about erasing the rights of those who are pregnant, simply check how the word “person” disappears from any description except in reference to the unborn.
Martin actually does say one thing right in his facebook rant: some do call them mothers. They shouldn’t. One does not become a mother simply by being pregnant. It’s something all people who oppose abortion need to be constantly pushed back on, and a trap that those who of us who advocate for reproductive rights need to be careful to avoid as well.
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