In defense of saying "pregnant women"

Given all the effort feminists have invested in making language more equitable, you might expect that they would welcome use of the term pregnant people. But some, including me, are concerned that it obscures the social dynamics at work in laws surrounding contraception, abortion, and maternal health. The argument for the second wave’s language changes was that women fought fires in the exact same way as men, so one word should cover both sexes. That’s a different decision from whether we should keep gendered language to reflect heavily gendered experiences. Earlier this month, the British Pregnancy Advice Service announced that it would continue to use pregnant women—while also stressing that it runs trans-inclusive services—because “from choice in childbirth to access to emergency contraception, our reproductive rights are undermined precisely because these are issues that affect women.”

Perhaps a comparison will help. The same progressives who push for pregnant people have no problem saying “Black Lives Matter”—and in fact decry the right-wing rejoinder that “all lives matter.” Yet, hopefully, all lives do matter—and about half of the people shot by U.S. police are white. So why insist on Black? Because the phrase is designed to highlight police racism, as well as the disproportionate killing of Black men in particular. Making the slogan more “inclusive” also makes it useless for political campaigning.

Pregnant people does the same. The famous slogan commonly attributed to the second-wave activist Florynce Kennedy—“If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament”—would be totally defanged if it were made gender-neutral.

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