Fact Check

Did CDC Change 'Pregnant Women' to 'Pregnant People' in Flu Guidance?

A November 2022 search of the CDC's website returned hundreds of instances of both phrases.

Published Nov 3, 2022

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - AUGUST 06: A view of the sign of Center for Disease Control headquarters is seen in Atlanta, Georgia, United States on August 06, 2022. (Photo by Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) (Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Image Via Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Claim:
Mentions of the phrase "pregnant women" were changed to "pregnant people" on a page about flu guidance on the CDC website.

On Nov. 3, 2022, the Gateway Pundit website published the headline, "CDC Quietly Replaces 'Pregnant Women' with Woke Gender Neutral Term 'Pregnant People' in Flu Guidance." In turn, that story cited The Daily Mail, which first reported on Oct. 31: "EXCLUSIVE: Fury as the CDC quietly replaces 'pregnant women' with 'pregnant people' in flu vaccine advice to be inclusive to trans groups."

It's true that language on a page on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website was changed from "pregnant women" to "pregnant people." The page highlighted by the two articles was titled, "Flu Vaccine Safety and Pregnancy."

One example of the switch read, "Influenza (flu) is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant people than in people of reproductive age who are not pregnant." The sentence originally said, "Influenza (flu) is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women of reproductive age who are not pregnant." In another example, the phrase "the pregnant parent" was substituted for the word "Mom." 

The top of the page in question looked like this before and after the switch:

The CDC website updated a flu guidance page to say pregnant people instead of pregnant women.

Social media users who saw the headlines from the Gateway Pundit and The Daily Mail but may have not read the articles might have assumed that this switch was made on the CDC website just before the 2022 midterm elections. However, The Daily Mail reported that the switch was made long before, in August 2021.

We confirmed on the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine that this change was indeed made in August 2021. According to archived captures of the flu guidance page on the CDC website, it displayed the words "pregnant women" on Aug. 15, 2021, but was altered to say "pregnant people" sometime over the following two weeks. The Daily Mail pointed to another page that also mentioned "pregnant people," which was on the subject of the monkeypox virus and pregnancy. According to the Wayback Machine, this relatively new page about monkeypox did not previously say "pregnant women."

As of Nov. 3, 2022, a targeted search for the phrase "pregnant people" across the entire CDC website returned hundreds of instances. By the same token, we found hundreds of CDC pages containing the phrase "pregnant women" (pages about vaccine safety during pregnancy, the Zika virus, lead poisoning, and listeria infections, to name a few). 

The Daily Mail article characterized the change from "pregnant women" to "pregnant people" on the flu guidance page as "the latest example of CDC medical advice being de-sexed in an attempt to be more inclusive to trans people." We reached out to the CDC's media relations staff to learn more about the agency's rationale for these changes and will update this fact check if and when we receive a statement.

In the meantime, we looked to an article on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website for insights about gender-inclusive language in medical contexts entitled "Inclusive and Gender-Neutral Language": 

Both "pregnant women" and "pregnant people" are acceptable phrases. It is unnecessary to avoid the word "women" by substituting phrases like "birthing people," or "people with uteruses." Neutral terms like "pregnant patients," "pregnant people," or other wording as applicable (e.g., "pregnant teens"), present an inclusive alternative. Use judgment and context to determine whether to use "pregnant women" or "pregnant people" / "pregnant patients."

Using more limited and specific language is sometimes important. For instance, if discussing a study that only involves cisgender women, gender-specific language (pregnant women) would be most accurate to reference that study's findings. If the word "women" is preferable, but transgender and nonbinary people are also referenced, phrasing like "women and other pregnant patients" can provide an inclusive alternative.

 

Sources:

Andrews, Luke. "Fury as CDC Quietly Removes the Word 'women' from Flu Vaccine Advice." The Daily Mail, 31 Oct. 2022, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-11373395/Fury-CDC-quietly-removes-word-women-flu-vaccine-advice-pregnant-people.html.

CDC. "Flu Shots Are Safe During Pregnancy." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/flu/highrisk/qa_vacpregnant.htm.

Hoft, Jim. "CDC Quietly Replaces 'Pregnant Women' with Woke Gender Neutral Term 'Pregnant People' in Flu Guidance." The Gateway Pundit, 3 Nov. 2022, https://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2022/11/cdc-quietly-replaces-pregnant-women-woke-gender-neutral-term-pregnant-people-flu-guidance/.

"Wayback Machine." Internet Archive, https://web.archive.org/.

Jordan Liles is a Snopes reporter with expertise in investigating misinformation, inauthentic social media activity, and scams.

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