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GOP Senator Confronts HHS Secretary on ‘Birthing People’ Phrase: ‘Mom Is a Pretty Good Word’

Sen. James Lankford (R., Okla.) attends a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, on Capitol Hill, September 16, 2020. (Anna Moneymaker/Reuters)

Oklahoma senator James Lankford (R.) confronted Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra Thursday over the department’s replacement of “mothers” with the term “birthing people.”

Lankford challenged Becerra to defend the phrase during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2022 Budget, according to a press release from Lankford’s office. The senator questioned him about the “language in the President’s proposed budget regarding maternal health that referred to ‘birthing people’ instead of mothers even though the science is clear that women give birth.”

“I also noticed you changed a term in your budget work. You shifted from using the term ‘mother’ to ‘birthing people’ rather than mother. Can you help me get a good definition of ‘birthing people?'” Lankford asked.

The HHS secretary paused and failed to offer a concise response, claiming he had to “check on the language.”

“But I think if we’re talking about those who give birth, I think we’re talking about . . . I don’t know how else to explain it to you other than [that],” he continued.

Lankford retorted that “the language is important always.” “Would you at least admit that calling a mom a ‘birthing person’ could be offensive . . . that they don’t want to get a ‘Happy birthing person card’ in May? Can you at least admit that term itself could be offensive to some moms?” he added.

Becerra said he would need to refer to the “terminology that was used.” His comments come after Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Shalanda Young doubled-down on the Biden budget proposal’s use of “birthing people,” insisting it’s more inclusive and equitable, at a congressional hearing Wednesday.

“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,” she remarked.

“Our official policy is to make sure that when people get service from their government that they feel included, and we’re trying to use inclusive language,” Young concluded.

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Language, of course, is generally employed by human beings to distract or deceive. So there is much to be said for critical listening.