‘Pregnant People’ Terminology Prompts Backlash from Women
Some politicians and media have opposed the use of the word “woman” and have been employing new phrases related to women’s reproductive functions yet many women are speaking out against this ‘dehumanizing’ language.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) caused a stir in August when they released COVID-19 vaccine guidance for “pregnant and recently pregnant people” rather than for pregnant women. Phrases like “pregnant people” and “birthing individuals” have been increasingly employed by the Biden administration with Biden’s June budget proposal replacing “mothers” with “birthing people.” Phrases like these that are perceived as more acceptable to transgender groups have also gained traction in newsrooms like CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. However, many women have been vocal in response to this language, arguing that it diminishes womanhood and hurts women.
The CDC did not respond to a question from the Register about their use of the term “pregnant people” in their August guidance, but in June, Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Shalanda Young defended the use of the term “birthing individual” in the budget proposal saying, “there are certain people who do not have gender identities that apply to female and male, so we think our language needs to be more inclusive on how we deal with complex issues.”
The Rise in New Terminology
Some Democrats in Congress seem increasingly opposed to the use of the word “woman” and have been employing unique new phrases related to women’s reproductive functions. Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., used the phrase “birthing people” on the House floor in May. And Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., referred to a “menstruating person’s body” in a CNN interview in September, defending herself on Twitter after backlash by saying “trans men and non-binary people can also menstruate” and “some women also don’t menstruate for many reasons.”
Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Atlantic last month that “if we’re talking about ‘pregnant people,’ that language says to people — to transgender men and to non-binary people — 'we see you.’ It should do a fair amount of work to help address discrimination. If we talk about ‘pregnant people,’ it’s a reminder to all of us to catch ourselves when we’re sitting in the waiting room at the GYN that we’re not going to stare at the man who’s there. We’re not going to be disconcerted.”
The ACLU is so committed to this “inclusive” vision that the organization recently tweeted a quote from the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that “the decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life,” but replaced the word “woman” with “person.” The organization later apologized for the move, with ACLU president Anthony Romero saying, “we won’t be altering quotes” going forward. However, Romero added that "having spent time with Justice Ginsburg, I would like to believe that if she were alive today, she would encourage us to evolve our language to encompass a broader vision of gender, identity and sexuality."
The British medical journal The Lancet faced intense backlash for referring to women on its cover as “bodies with vaginas” last month. Lancet editor-in-chief Richard Horton apologized in a statement, acknowledging, “In this instance, we have conveyed the impression that we have dehumanized and marginalized women. Those who read The Lancet regularly will understand that this would never have been our intention. I apologize to our readers who were offended by the cover quote and the use of those same words in the review.” However, the statement also emphasized that “transgender health is an important dimension of modern health care, but one that remains neglected. Trans people regularly face stigma, discrimination, exclusion, and poor health, often experiencing difficulties accessing appropriate health care.”
Some women have reacted forcefully to this removal of the word “woman” by politicians and the media. Former Hawaii congresswoman and 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard tweeted criticism of the term “pregnant people” in an ABC News article, writing, “Some hate women so much that they literally want to erase even the word ‘woman’ from our vocabulary.” Ann Romney, wife of Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, tweeted in June, “I’m not the ‘birthing person’ of five boys, I’m their mother. With all the sacrifice, joy, commitment, hardship, and love that comes with that. The Biden Administration diminishing motherhood to ‘birthing person’ is simply insulting to all moms.”
Catholic Women Speak Out
Mary Rice Hasson, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington and director of the Catholic Women’s Forum, told the Register that this push to change language comes from groups with a specific agenda.
“The political agenda is to de-sex the language that we use to describe women (who are adult females) in order to make it ‘inclusive’ of males who identify as women,” she said. “But in so doing, the term ‘woman’ is rendered meaningless. Females and males are mutually exclusive realities: A person cannot be both a female and a male. So redefining ‘woman’ to include males (regardless of how they identify) is a contradiction in terms.”
Hasson quoted George Orwell who said, “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” She said that “when progressives change the language, they are aiming to change how we think about reality. Substituting a generic term (such as ‘people’) for a sex-specific word (female or woman) suggests ambiguity, as if the pregnant person could be either male or female (or something else). This is a political tactic that dehumanizes women. Similarly, The Lancet’s decision to describe women as ‘bodies with vaginas’ also dehumanizes women because it reduces being female to nothing more than body parts.”
She said it was crucial that women realize how this will impact them. “As with the sexual revolution, women are the casualties of the gender revolution,” she warned. “The reality of being female, and the rights of females, are being denied in order to appease the distorted perceptions of a few male bullies and to further the political agenda at work in gender ideology — an agenda that seeks to erase sexual difference, destroy the family, and exalt human autonomy over truth and the will of God.”
Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with The Catholic Association and the author of Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female, told the Register that the push to change language was “very troubling” because “language reflects truth and reality and if you can bend language, you can bend how people perceive and understand the truth, but the scientific and biological reality that women and only women are the people who bear and give birth to children is fixed.”
McGuire said that the increased use of gender terminology may end up “bringing some of these culture war issues home in a more personal way to women who really cherish their roles as mothers and see things being eliminated from schools,” like Mother’s Day celebrations. She said as this push becomes more widespread, hopefully “this will wake people up to the reality that there's a bigger cost here than just changing the language, that this strips men and women of what makes them unique, and what the overwhelming majority of men and women really value which is their roles as mothers and fathers.”
She noted that Pope Francis called gender ideology a “global war” on the family, and pointed out that “the whole concept of the family is rooted in the idea that a man and woman come together, that they bring different but equally important things to the table, and then they stay there for the children that they create. But if women are disposable, if we're interchangeable, that chips away at a foundational concept of the family.”
McGuire said that what is happening is “part and parcel of something bigger,” which is a movement to “dismantle the traditional family.”