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What does it mean to be a woman in 2021? In Britain, it means finding yourself airbrushed from the female experience of being pregnant. In a bill proceeding through Parliament about paid maternity leave for members of parliament, the wording deems that there are no pregnant women, only pregnant persons. Last month at the Brighton and Sussex National Health Service trust, women lost their right to have breasts: they now chest-feed. Nor are women now mothers, for they are the birthing parent. The House of Lords was told the World Health Organisation (WHO) defines a woman as a person who menstruates. The jettisoning of the word “women” from the legal text of the proposed new UK maternity leave bill was hotly debated in the House of Lords.

Baroness Sheila Noakes, a Conservative peer, moved a motion, saying the proposed language of the Bill was set to erase women from society. Instead of using the phrase pregnant woman or mother, the bill refers to “the person is pregnant” and “the person has given birth to a child”.  “Those of us who care about the position of women have been increasingly concerned about the dilution of the 2010 Equality Act with its protected characteristic of sex, not gender, which should protect women, Lady Noakes said. “The National Health Service, which in the past had to be forced to abandon mixed-sex wards, now routinely admits to women’s wards on the basis of self-identification, regardless of the needs or wishes of women. Prisons operate like this, too. And do not get me started on so-called gender-neutral toilets.’’

Lady Noakes said she was not prepared to be erased as a woman, even knowing the social media wrath of being labelled transphobic, like JK Rowling discovered when she poked fun at the WHO. “There is no malice in wishing to maintain the biological facts of womanhood and the lived experience of women, which includes menstruation, childbirth and menopause,” she said. “That view happily coexists with respect and concern for transgender people.’’ Lady Noakes described parliament’s claims that it was illegal or incorrect to use the word “women” in relation to pregnancy as being “garbage”. “We have to put a stop to the practice,” she said, warning, “If this bill passes unamended, there will be yet another precedent on the statute book for the elimination of women.’’ There are ‘contortions’ over the issue of gender identification.

Lady Noakes’s position was strongly supported by scores of peers across the spectrum of politics. Baroness Helene Hayman, a Labour peer, said: The price of gender neutrality in this Bill is a distortion of the English language and an affront to common sense. Lord Philip Hunt, who previously introduced legislation for gay adoption said: “Do we really need demeaning terms such as ‘menstruators’, ‘individuals with a cervix’, ‘birthing bodies’ or even ‘chest feeders’? When the Brighton trust announced the use of the latter term, where was the Department of Health? It was silent, frightened to speak up against this kind of absolute nonsense.’’ Baroness Claire Fox, an independent, said women and their specific biology were becoming devalued, expunging their recognisable human attributes. “Our laws and words must never treat people as non-human things,” she said.

Fox went on “Why do I need to describe myself as ‘cis woman’? I am a woman; that is it. I am not a uterus holder, nor a person with a vagina nor a chest-feeder. These body part descriptions demean women and are a linguistic assault on the notion that biological sex exists at all.’’ Crossbencher Lord David Pannick told the House that trans men who were born female had given birth and one brought legal proceedings in the Court of Appeal last year. He said the claimant had been born female, but had transitioned to be a male and had received a gender recognition certificate confirming he was male. “He was then artificially inseminated, became pregnant and gave birth to a child. He  complaining that the child’s birth certificate recorded him as the mother. He said that, because he had transitioned, he should be recorded as the father or as a parent. The Court of Appeal rejected his complaint.’’

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports