Speaking before the Senate Finance Committee hearing about the Biden administration’s fiscal year 2022 HHS budget request, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra was confronted by Oklahoma GOP Senator James Lankford about the removal of the word “mother” and the insertion of the term “birthing people.”
When Lankford asked for a good definition of “birthing people,” Becerra was literally unable to say the word “mother,” instead grinning and responding, “I don’t know how else to explain it to you other than” before his voice petered out.
Prior to that exchange, Lankford questioned Becerra about religious freedom, saying, “At your nomination hearing, you and I talked about the conscience and freedom, and freedom and faith, all those protections that are there. I was surprised to see the language in the budget; it stripped out much of that language that had existed in previous budgets about freedom of conscience, freedom of religion. And it also seems that you’re eliminating the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division. Is that true? In your budget, are you eliminating the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division?”
“We’re going to continue to do the work to protect the religious, civil, constitutional rights of all Americans under HHS’ purview, and we are going to be a solid organization through the Office of Civil Rights that we have to make sure we’re protecting everyone’s rights, including religious conscience rights,” Becerra protested.
“But you’re taking away that division as a priority and putting it under something else or where is it going?” Lankford queried.
“It continues to function; the work continues to be functioning under the Offices of Civil Rights,” Becerra claimed.
Later Lankford cornered Becerra about the elision of the word “mother,” asserting, “I also notice you changed a term in your budget where you shifted in places from using the term ‘mother’ to ‘birthing people’ rather than ‘mother.’ Can you help me get a good definition of ‘birthing people?’”
Becerra deflected, “Well, I’ll check on the language there, but I think if we’re talking about those who give birth I think we’re talking about —” Unable to bring himself to say “mother,” Becerra grinned, “I don’t know how else to explain it to you other than …” as his voice petered out.
Lankford pressed, “I was a little taken aback when I just read it and saw it that the term ‘mother’ was gone and it was replaced with ‘birthing people” and I didn’t know if this was a direction you were going, if there were shifts, if there were regulatory changes that are happening related to that or what the purpose of that is.”
Becerra dodged, “I think it’s probably — and again I’d have to go back and take a look at the language that was used in the budget, but I think it simply reflects the work that is being done.”
“I definitely get that; I would only say the language is important always; we don’t want to offend in our language; I get that,” Lankford said. “But would you at least admit calling a mom a ‘birthing person’ could be offensive to some moms? They don’t want to get like a ‘Happy Birthing Person’ card in May. Can you at least admit that term itself could be offensive to some moms?”
Becerra still wouldn’t admit Lankford’s argument, instead laughing, “Senator, I’ll go back and take a look at the terminology that was used and I can get back to you, but again, if we’re trying to be precise in the language that’s used.”
Lankford fired, “Mom’s a pretty good word. That’s worked for a while and I think that’s pretty precise as well.”
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