The Trump administration is reportedly forbidding officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using seven words — which include "transgender," "fetus," and "science-based" — in official budget documents for next year, according to the Washington Post.
The banned words reportedly include “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based.” According to the Post, CDC policy analysts were told of the banned words at a meeting on Thursday.
Alternative phrases were offered for some of the words, such as swapping "science-based" or "evidence-based" for "CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes," the Post reported.
However, CDC Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald pushed back on the Post's report on Sunday, saying there were "no banned words at CDC."
Other agencies within the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) appeared to have been affected by the move to ban specific words from public documents. One agency, the Post reported, was instructed to use "Obamacare" for the Affordable Care Act, and to use "exchanges" instead of "marketplaces" when referring to venues where people can purchase health insurance.
For some of the listed words, no replacement suggestions were offered, according to the Post.
The CDC did not respond to a request for comment by BuzzFeed News. But a spokesperson for HHS, which oversees the CDC, told BuzzFeed News on Sunday that "the assertion that HHS has ‘banned words’ is a complete mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget formulation process."
"HHS will continue to use the best scientific evidence available to improve the health of all Americans," the spokesperson, Matt Lloyd, said. "HHS also strongly encourages the use of outcome and evidence data in program evaluations and budget decisions.”
The Post later reported that the State Department has also been affected by the push to avoid certain phrases from government documents. According to the paper, the department has been encouraged to refer to sex education as "sexual risk avoidance," a term defined in congressional funding bills "as abstinence-only practices until marriage, as the primary form of sex education."
Officials who spoke to the Post said they were not given explanations for the directive on vocabulary changes, although some of the changes appear to have had immediate effects on programs.
State Department officials, for example, were given a document to guide them on how to develop a plan for countries under the President's Plan for Emergency AIDS Relief, which uses the term "sexual risk avoidance." The document given to the State Department officials reportedly touted abstinence-only programs as "highly effective," although many public health officials disagree with that assessment.
Jen Kates, vice president and director of global health and HIV policy at Kaiser Family Foundation, told the paper that while there is no directive to change how much money is directed to abstinence-only programs, the emphasis on the language could mean more money is spent on those kinds of programs overseas.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News on Sunday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — another agency under HHS — said they "haven't received, nor implemented, any directives with respect to the language used at FDA to describe our policy or budget issues."
The National Institutes of Health directed all inquiries to HHS.
The Post reports prompted a strong response over the weekend.
Many people labeled the move "Orwellian."
Some called it an attack on free speech.
Others wondered how banning the word "fetus" might be used to shift the language around abortion rights.
And many trans people spoke up to fight back against their own apparent erasure from public health documents released by the CDC.
Salvador Hernandez contributed additional reporting to this story.
Jen Kates's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.