Va. state Sen. Stephen H. Martin criticized for ‘host’ comment in antiabortion Facebook post

February 25, 2014

A conservative Virginia state senator is under fire from Democrats and women’s groups for a sarcastic Facebook post in which he described a pregnant woman as the “host” of the child she bears.

Several female Democratic senators stood on the floor Tuesday afternoon to chastise Sen. Stephen H. Martin (R-Chesterfield), calling his comments clueless and disrespectful.

Martin’s Feb. 17 post responded to a valentine from the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition that asked him to give up his opposition to abortion.

“I don’t expect to be in the room [nor] will I do anything to prevent you from obtaining a contraceptive,” Martin wrote. “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.”

Martin said that his words were taken out of context and that he was trying to describe the way abortion advocates see women. Democrats and liberal activists said the comment was illustrative of how antiabortion lawmakers really think.

“This statement demonstrates a total lack of respect for women and a lack of respect for their bodies,” said state Sen. Barbara A. Favola (D-Arlington), one of four senators who spoke against Martin’s comments.

“I’ve been called by a lot of titles in my life, but I’ve never been called a host,” Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) chimed in.

Although some of the senators acknowledged that Martin might have been trying to be humorous, they said that wasn’t reason enough to give him a pass.

“Charitably, I can say that this kind of comment is snide and doesn’t get us anywhere,” Sen. Mamie E. Locke (D-Hampton) said. “Frankly, it’s misogynistic or demeaning.”

Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) agreed: “His remarks may have been a joke . . . but it underscores the point: He simply has no idea what he’s talking about.”

Planned Parenthood of Virginia and NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia sent several women to the Senate gallery wearing T-shirts that declared, “Not A Host.”

It was an unusual public shaming in a body that prides itself on civility and camaraderie despite ideological differences. But in recent years, abortion politics have led to some of the most-heated debates in Virginia’s General Assembly.

Martin supported legislation that requires women to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion, as well as tougher regulations for clinics that perform abortions. An attempt to repeal the ultrasound requirement passed the Senate this session but failed in a House committee.

“They represented the opposite of what I actually said,” Martin said after the floor speeches. The Facebook post “was me playing back their argument.” As the grandfather or brother of six women with children, he said, “I consider them to be mothers.”

Since women’s groups began highlighting Martin’s comments Monday, he has adjusted the post to take out the controversial line.

“The point . . . was to point out they are not ‘hosts.’ They are mothers. Mothers are a critically important lynchpin [sic] of society,” he explained. “The lesson to be learned here is that where an offense is sought it can be found.”

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.
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