Higher Education

OU, state mental-health agency tout ‘pregnant people’

Ray Carter | March 20, 2024

At a recent summit, officials with the University of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) urged greater focus on “pregnant people” with substance-abuse disorders, effectively downgrading the existence of women.

A release about the event, issued by ODMHSAS, was headlined, “State Summit Aims to Break Stigma and Build Support to Aid Pregnant People with Substance Use Disorders and Protect Families.”

The March 11 release stated that one of the goals of attendees was to raise “awareness of and reduce the stigma associated with the circumstances and needs of pregnant and parenting people with substance use disorders.”

The release stated that those involved in the “pregnant people” conference were “leaders and visionaries.”

The phrase “pregnant people” has replaced references to “pregnant women” or “mothers” in many government documents as officials seek to placate transgender activists who insist that men can become pregnant.

Throughout the release, ODMHSAS went to great lengths to avoid referencing the existence of women, instead resorting to phrases such as “individuals who are pregnant, post-partum or had a miscarriage,” and “programs to serve the needs of pregnant people with substance use disorders.”

The release quoted Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Allie Friesen saying, “Together, we’re reshaping the dialogue, removing barriers and helping families recover and stay connected to each other.”

Erin Maher, co-principal investigator of OU’s Parent Child Assistance Program (PCAP) project, said that the work of summit participants required “grounding ourselves in data and research.”

Notably, the website for OU’s Parent Child Assistance Program project does not excise sex-specific language when discussing pregnancy and drug abuse. Instead, the Parent Child Assistance Program specifically notes that prior research on drug abuse among pregnant women reaped much benefit from “conversations with the mothers who had deeply ingrained family dysfunction in their lives but wanted to be good moms.”

The Parent Child Assistance Program notes that its case managers “work directly with women” and touts that the program provides “one-on-one case management to pregnant and parenting mothers with substance use disorders.”

Efforts to strip references to women in medical settings have drawn pushback from some prominent officials.

Carole Hooven, who co-directed the undergraduate program in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology (HEB) at Harvard University, was criticized after she pushed back against the use of so-called gender-neutral language in medical settings, including medical education. She eventually resigned from her position.

In January, Hooven wrote about that experience, stating, “Harvard’s culture of intolerance—particularly toward my scientific views on the nature of sex—led me to feel that my only choice was to leave.”

In 2021, former Democratic congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who is now an independent, responded to a news story that used the phrase “pregnant people.” Gabbard tweeted,  “Pregnant PEOPLE? Read that headline again. Some hate women so much that they literally want to erase even the word ‘woman’ from our vocabulary.”

Other entities involved in the “pregnant people” event in Oklahoma included Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System, the Court Improvement Program, the Oklahoma Perinatal Quality Improvement Collaborative, the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, the Oklahoma State Department of Health, and the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.


UPDATE: Shortly after publication of this article, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services updated the posted press release to incorporate sex-specific language and remove references to “pregnant people.” An executive branch spokesperson said the agency’s standard practice is to use sex-specific terms such as “pregnant women” rather than gender-neutral language.

A separate web page devoted to the event highlighted in the press release, “Tough as a Mother: Stronger than Addiction,” incorporated sex-specific language and did not resort to the use of “pregnant people” or similar terms. That site stated, “Being a mom is tough but so are you. If you are using alcohol, marijuana and/or other drugs to cope with stress or trauma, you are not alone. Support is available so you can be the strongest mom possible.” When discussing recovery efforts, the site stated, “Pregnant women and mothers with young children get first priority.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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