‘What Is A Woman’ bill faces criticism in Alabama House committee meeting

LGBTQ+ individuals and legislators raise concerns over the legal definition of gender and its implications

By: - May 17, 2023 3:01 pm
Legislator presents bill in front of packed committee room

Rep. Susan DuBose, R-Hoover, presented HB 405 to the House Health committee, which would provide definitions for what she called “sex-based terms” on May 17, 2023 to a room filled with mostly people opposed to the legislation. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

The sponsor of a bill that would try to legally define man, woman, boy, girl, father, mother, male, female, and sex faced criticism from LGBTQ individuals and members of the Alabama House Health Committee on Wednesday.

HB 405, sponsored by Rep. Susan DuBose, R-Hoover, is titled the ‘What Is A Woman’ Act. She said the purpose of the legislation is to codify “some sex-based terms” into state law.

The bill would define a woman as an individual who is female, which the bill defines as “an individual whose biological reproductive system is designed to produce ova.” Likewise, it defines a man as male, which is defined as “an individual whose biological reproductive system is designed to fertilize the ova of a female.”

Lawmaker presents legislation to the committee
Rep. Susan DuBose, R-Hoover, presents HB 405, which would define “sex-based terms” into state law, to the House Health committee on May 17, 2023. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

DuBose, who has sponsored legislation to ban transgender athletes from college sports, said that if the state does not define so-called “sex-based words,” laws that prohibit discrimination based on sex “will cease to mean anything at all, and single-sex private spaces will disappear.”

“Common sex-based words are used thousands of times in state law, but recently, activists have sought to redefine these words and separate sex from biology,” DuBose said.

DuBose’s bill would also require state or local governing bodies – such as school districts, agencies or commissions – that collect vital statistics for certain purposes to identify individuals as either male or female at birth.

The bill also expands the current state definition of “person” as a corporation or natural person to include an “individual, corporation, partnership, company, or other business entity.”

One person signed up to speak in support of the bill. Eleven signed up to speak against, but committee chair Rep. Paul Lee, R-Dothan, limited the opposition to five speakers.

Belle Moyers, a trans woman and professional biologist, said biologists define sex in many ways, using everything from chromosomes to gametes to appearance and behavior.

The bill “masquerades as biology” and tries to use a technical definition that isn’t correct.

“This bill is big government examining and classifying your body, your wife’s body, your husband’s body, and your child’s body,” Moyers said.

Patricia Todd, who was the first openly gay person to serve in the Alabama Legislature, said she did not understand where the obsession with the trans community stems from, saying “this is not a crisis in Alabama.”

Todd also wondered if the same people pushing the ‘What is a Woman Act’ would have also voted for the Equal Rights Amendment, which would ban discrimination based on sex.

Protesters march on sidewalk
“Drag me to the Capitol” protestors, who opposes HB 405 among other anti-LEGBTQ+ legislation, march from the Alabama Capitol to the Alabama State House on May 16, 2023. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

“My concern about this is it seems like it’s going to set up the gender police, that we’re going to determine, ‘Well, you look male, so that’s okay,’ but if you really can’t tell what gender they are, how we’re going to prove what gender they are,”

Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, a member of the committee, said that bills like DuBose’s would drive businesses and skilled workers from the state.

“These are bright people – they are biologists and engineers,” he said. “What happens when they leave the state?”

Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, said definitions of mother and father in the bill could affect sperm donation, where the biological father may not be the one raising the child, or surrogacy, where the woman giving birth may not be one raising the child.

He further raised questions on what a birth certificate would look like, and whether that would affect who is listed on a birth certificate as “mother” and “father.”

“What does the birth certificate look like in that situation?” he asked. “Does the father then become the sperm donor? What happens in that situation to accommodate all the families that make up Alabama?

DuBose said the bill would not affect the process, which Rafferty said he was not sure about but will work with DuBose on clarifying the issue.

The committee did not vote on the bill Wednesday. DuBose said she may submit amendments to the bill, such as adding ‘unknown’ as a third option for sex identification at birth, next week.

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Alander Rocha
Alander Rocha

Alander Rocha is a journalist based in Montgomery, and he reports on government, policy and healthcare. He previously worked for KFF Health News and the Red & Black, Georgia's student newspaper. He is a Tulane and Georgia alumnus with a two-year stint in the U.S. Peace Corps.