Bill Shorten has intervened to stop a trial of the term “birthing parent” being used on medical forms at several hospitals, amid criticism in News Corp’s Daily Telegraph that the term amounted to “woke erasure”.
The term birthing parent was used in a trial at three hospitals on Services Australia digital forms for parents to register their child’s birth with Medicare. Only 1,100 parents had participated in the trial.
The term birthing parent is used to include transgender men and non-binary people who give birth.
Shorten’s intervention was praised by former Liberal candidate for Warringah Katherine Deves and Christian lobby groups, but condemned by LGBTQ+ advocates.
On Tuesday, the founder of a female social network that excludes trans women, Sall Grover, said on Twitter that the use of the term birthing parent is “absolute bullshit is exclusionary, alienating and derogatory towards every woman [who] wants to be and is called ‘mother’”.
Grover later claimed the term “only benefits the males who claim to be women, part of the attempt to dismantle the meaning of woman”.
Her comments were heavily featured in an article in the Daily Telegraph on Thursday, and the story was picked up by several broadcasters.
On Thursday morning Shorten, the government services minister, said the form “was part of a pilot program launched in three hospitals under the previous Coalition government”.
“When I was informed of this situation yesterday, I instructed the responsible officials they should cease using the previous government’s forms,” he told Guardian Australia.
“They will be replaced with new forms that use the word mother not birthing parent which is consistent with other Medicare forms.”
Medicare forms give parents the option to identify themselves as the child’s “birth mother” or “biological father”, or nominate an alternative term of their choosing.
Jackie Turner, a trans equality advocate at Equality Australia, said “not everyone who gives birth can accurately be described as a ‘mother’”.
“It is the role of government to ensure services and programs respond to the needs of everyone, including transgender and gender diverse parents,” Turner said.
“Inclusive terminology that respects how different people refer to themselves is important to ensure everyone can access the services and support they need without discrimination.”
Sally Goldner, a trans advocate and adviser to lobby group Just Equal, said she was “obviously disappointed” at the “failure to recognise the attribute of gender identity”.
“LGBTQIA+ people, including trans people, were hoping for positive change under a federal Labor government,” she said. “We haven’t seen anything two months after their election.”
Goldner called for an “urgent meeting” to discuss trans people’s concerns, including the need for uniform standards on recognising gender identity, and to reform Medicare to provide equitable access to healthcare including surgery and hormones.
The Greens LGBTQ+ spokesperson, Stephen Bates, said it was “not a good start” for the Albanese government.
“We just had an election filled with conservative vitriol, anti-queer and anti-trans rhetoric, which was rejected by the public,” he said.
“I’m disappointed one of the minister’s first acts – seemingly without consulting any groups affected – is to start playing these culture war games.”
Bates said people “can still be a mother and a birth parent” and nothing stops mothers referring to themselves as such, but birth parent was more accurate and inclusive, like the term “primary caregiver”.
The director of policy and advocacy at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Alastair Lawrie, said the move was “disappointing”.
Deves, who advocated for the exclusion of trans women from women’s sport, thanked Shorten on Twitter for “standing up for mothers”.
Greg Bondar, a spokesperson for FamilyVoice, thanked Shorten for the decision rejecting gender-neutral language. “In the drive to recognise all gender identities, biological reality is being lost,” he said.
In 2013, the Labor government ended gender discrimination in Medicare, allowing trans and intersex people to access care without having to disclose or explain their gender.