Joanna Cherry has told ministers it is not transphobic to advocate for women’s “sex-based rights”.
A Bill to extend maternity rights to ministers and shadow ministers refers to a “person” rather than a “woman” being able to take maternity leave, leading Cherry to ask why the Bill makes “no mention of women”.
Cabinet Office minister Penny Mordaunt suggested that changes could be made to the explanatory notes to the Bill to address concerns.
Ms Cherry told MPs: “Why does this Bill make no mention of women?
“It is women who give birth and women who benefit from maternity leave.
“Is this a reflection of the ideological language which is now seen across schools, universities and the NHS which bans use of the word woman and use of the word lesbian?
“Why must we deny the fact that there are two sexes and why must we deny that biological sex exists?
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“Why is the Government not complying with the Equality Act of 2010?
“That legislation refers to pregnancy and maternity and uses the day-to-day language of centuries – women, she and her.”
The SNP MP for Edinburgh South West added that it was possible to similtaneously support both trans rights and women’s rights.
She said: “Many politicians are now so in thrall to those who wish to erase women for the purposes of advancing gender identity theory, that they call those of us who advocate for women’s sex-based rights transphobic, even when we have never done or said anything against equal rights for trans people in our lives.
“And even when some of us were trans allies before it was fashionable to be such.
“It is not transphobic to advocate for women’s sex-based rights under the Equality Act.
“It is possible and right to support both trans rights and women’s rights, neither should be sacrificed for the sake of the other.
“We can have an inclusive society for everyone without doing that”, she continued.
“Sex is a protected characteristic for a very good reason.
“Discrimination against women is rooted in their biology, that is our lived experience.
“We must find a way to be inclusive without erasing women’s biology and women’s lived experience from the statute book.
“So why is this Bill doing that?”
She added: “Let’s put this Bill right and reflect the reality and the law as set out in the Equality Act and supported by the Cedaw Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.”
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Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) told the Commons: “I warmly support the Bill, but can Her Majesty’s Government confirm that only a biological woman can have a baby?
“Will (Penny Mordaunt) therefore explain to me why this Bill refers to a person and not to a woman?
“If we are going to adopt extreme gender ideology, why is the Government doing it by stealth and why can we not have a transparent debate which insults the dignity of many women?”
Ms Mordaunt replied: “I know that many members will want to speak to this issue and I will want to hear what they say, but I do want to reassure honourable members across the House that there is absolutely no intention of doing that.
“This is not a policy decision around language.
“The Government will still use the word women, it is in all documents as is our policy to do so.
“The issue is a particular drafting issue and I can come onto the detail later in committee stage of that.
“But I also hope to be able to give all members some comfort today about the language that we will be using and I hope (Sir Edward) will allow me to leave it there for the moment, but his point is well made, it is very understood by myself and the rest of Government.”
The Cabinet Office minister added: “I do understand how offensive the word ‘person’ or ‘persons’ can be in this context and I hope that we can make some changes, if not to the legislation, but to the explanatory notes.”