Florida Politics

House Speaker apologizes for calling pregnant women ‘host bodies’ in abortion interview

CBS4 screenshot

House Speaker José Oliva apologized Friday for repeatedly referring to pregnant women as “host bodies” in an interview with CBS4’s Jim DeFede about abortion, which was released Thursday night.

The Miami Lakes Republican in a statement apologized multiple times for the phrase, which he said was “an attempt to use terminology found in medical ethics writings with the purpose of keeping the discussion dispassionate. The reaction undoubtedly shows it had the exact opposite effect.”

“I apologize for having caused offense, my aim was the contrary,” he added. “This is and will continue to be our societies [sic] greatest challenge. I strongly believe both mother and child have rights and the extent and balance of those rights remain in question. I regret my wording has distracted from the issue. My apologies to all.”

Oliva referenced “host body” several times during his interview with DeFede, who hosts the show “Facing South Florida.”

“The challenge there is there are two lives involved. Where I believe we should stay out of people’s lives, I don’t believe people’s lives should be taken,” he told DeFede in the first part of the interview, posted Thursday. “It’s a complex issue, because one has to think well, there’s a host body, and that host body has to have a certain amount of rights, because at the end of the day, it is that body that carries this entire other body to term. But there’s an additional life there.

“What is the limit to which we are going to give one person complete power over the life of another?” he asked rhetorically.

He also used the phrase when talking about using viability as a standard for limiting abortions: “As technology moves along, a human body can exist outside of its host body earlier and earlier. And so then one has to think, until what time does the host body have veto power over this other life?”

It came up once more when he defended his position that life begins at conception.

“The only definition of science of life is something that grows: From the moment that conception occurs there begins to be growth. And so scientifically that’s what it is,” he said. “But that’s not the question. The question is: What is the value of that life? And is it subordinate to the value of its host body?”

Oliva, when asked about his use of the phrase during the interview, said he was trying to avoid loaded terms: “We can either use technical terms on both sides or we can just use both lives. I’d be happy to do either. The real question is, there are two lives. There is a weight and a quality to both. Both need protection. What is that balance?”

Critics were quick to point out Oliva’s terminology after the interview segment was posted. Florida Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo accused Oliva of insulting Florida women, and called his comments “hurtful, dehumanizing, and misogynistic.”

“You’d expect to hear this offensive language in the ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ — not from the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives,” she said.

But Rep. Kionne McGhee of Miami, the House’s top-ranking Democrat, spoke up for Oliva after his apology Friday.

“While Speaker [Oliva] and I will probably disagree 99% of the time on policy and 100% on THIS ISSUE, I find him to be a principled and respectful person who is committed to fair treatment of others,” he wrote on Twitter, quoting Oliva’s statement.

Abortion is not a top legislative priority this year, but multiple bills have been filed that would seek to restrict the practice substantially. Among them is a “fetal heartbeat” bill that would seek to ban abortions once a fetus’ heartbeat has been detected via vaginal ultrasound, which can be as early as six weeks.

This year’s legislative session begins Tuesday.

Elizabeth Koh is a state government reporter in the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times’ Tallahassee bureau, where she covers health care politics and policy (and the occasional hurricane). A Brown University graduate, she has also covered local politics for the Washington Post and national politics for the Dallas Morning News’ D.C. bureau.
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