DeSantis’ new anti-woke fight: Men can’t get pregnant

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Gov. Ron DeSantis is joining the chorus of conservatives criticizing the use of gender-neutral terms like “birthing people” when describing pregnancies.

The national debate on abortion spawned a secondary front in the culture war in recent weeks as some on the left ditched phrases like “pregnant mothers” to be more inclusive to transgender men and nonbinary people. During a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on abortion access on Tuesday, a University of California, Berkeley law professor called Missouri Republican U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley’s comments “transphobic” when he questioned references to “people with a capacity for pregnancy,” an exchange that garnered significant media attention.

Speaking in Putnam County on Thursday, Florida’s Republican Governor took the opportunity to opine on gender-neutral language when asked about implementing stricter anti-abortion laws.

“Some of the people in Washington, like, can we actually agree that women get pregnant and not men? Because they don’t seem to say that,” DeSantis said. “It’s just unbelievable, some of the stuff that you’re hearing about that.”

The Hawley exchange wasn’t the only time language around pregnancy entered the national debate. In outlining President Joe Biden’s budget proposal for the 2022 fiscal year more than a year ago, the administration swapped references to “mothers” with “birthing people,” drawing criticism. And last month, in anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups used gender-neutral language when describing abortion.

DeSantis has made a point to combat “woke” culture. Last year, he signed legislation banning transgender women and girls from competing in women’s and girls’ sports. And in April, he signed what he called the “Stop WOKE Act” (HB 7) to prohibit lessons and training which tell students and employees that they’re inherently racist, sexist or oppressive because of their race, color, sex or national origin.

He also has derided “woke” corporations like Disney, which came out against Florida’s law restricting discussions about gender and sexual identity by teachers.

DeSantis in April signed a 15-week abortion ban (HB 5) into law, which Florida Republicans based on similar Mississippi legislation the U.S. Supreme Court upheld 6-3 in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. But by a slimmer 5-4 margin, a majority of the Court also overturned Roe v. Wade, opening the possibility for Florida and other states to enact stricter laws.

However, Florida’s constitution directly outlines a right to privacy, which the Florida Supreme Court has previously ruled includes the right to abortion for up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. Republicans and the DeSantis administration expect litigation over the 15-week law to make its way to the state Supreme Court, where they hope Justices will overturn the state’s right to abortions.

DeSantis called the 15-week abortion ban the “best pro-life legislation” Florida has seen in decades.

“Basically, we’ve had, for many decades now, very radical state-level judicial decisions that really makes us closer to China and North Korea when it comes to being very radical with abortion policy, and so that’s not the appropriate thing for courts to be imposing on the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.

The DeSantis administration appealed a lower court’s decision that initially ruled the abortion ban unconstitutional. The Governor expects an appellate court to advance the case soon, and the next question is whether the Florida Supreme Court will take the case.

“I think that they probably will because I think this is a really important thing for them to decide,” DeSantis said.

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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