US rights group sparks debate by altering 'RBG' quote

© Agence France-Presse

The late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Washington (AFP) - Too woke? The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has triggered a debate by altering a quote about abortion by the late US Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, replacing references to women with gender neutral words.

In a tweet on Saturday to mark a year since Ginsburg's death, the powerful civil rights group noted that the liberal and feminist icon popularly known as "RBG" was a "champion for abortion and gender equality."

The ACLU tweet was accompanied by a quote from Ginsburg: "The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a [person's] life, to [their] well-being and dignity... When the government controls that decision for [people], [they are] being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for [their] own choices."

The quote was taken from Ginsburg's Senate confirmation hearing in 1993 when she said: "The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman's life, to her well-being and dignity... When government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices."

Replacing "woman" with "person," and the female pronouns "she" and "her" with "they" and "their" was apparently intended to be more inclusive, taking into account trans men and nonbinary individuals who may seek an abortion.

The alteration drew the ire of some Twitter users, most loudly on the right, a few of whom described it as "Orwellian."

"The ACLU literally erasing women," wrote Greg Scott of the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom.

"When 'RBG' isn't woke enough," tweeted Matt Gorman, a Republican digital strategist. 

"Who the hell at the @aclu thought they had the license to edit the late RBG to erase WOMEN from her thoughts?" tweeted former Fox News talk show host Megyn Kelly. "This is deeply wrong on every level."

On a less strident note, the former chess champion Jennifer Shahade weighed in, arguing: "Inclusive language is vital but don't like erasing the word 'women' in discussion of reproductive rights."

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said he believed "Ginsburg herself would have had little patience with such woke revisionism."

"If one accepts this view that the reference to 'woman' is offensive, you can still accept that historical documents should be read in their original form," Turley said.

Charlotte Clymer, a transgender activist, defended the ACLU's phrasing.

Clymer took to Twitter to issue a "reminder" that "trans men and non-binary folks need abortion access, too, and language about abortion access should always reflect that.

"If y'all are angry about RBG's quote being edited, wait until you hear what state legislatures are doing to the rights and health care of trans children," said Clymer, a former press secretary for the LGBTQ rights group Human Rights Campaign.

The anniversary of Ginsburg's death comes amid redoubled efforts by a number of Republican-led states to restrict abortion.

A Texas law which went into force on September 1 effectively bans abortion after six weeks -- before many women even know they are pregnant. It makes no exception for rape or incest.