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How the Trump administration is changing the language of reproductive health

Annalisa Merelli

The current White House has made little secret of its priorities when it comes to family planning.

Since president Donald Trump took office, he has decreased funding to promote sex education and increased funding for abstinence-only programs. He has also implemented policies that allow faith-based denials of health services.

In the meantime, his administration has also set out to rewrite the language used in government documents and websites. Faith-based is replacing science-based. To track just how much these new priorities are reflected in official language, Quartz asked the Sunlight Foundation’s Web Integrity Project, a nonprofit that monitors government sites for information changes, to track the use of several terms related to sex education on the Department of Health and Human Services’ website since Trump was elected.

The analysis looked at a range of terms (pdf, p.9) on pages that existed before and after Trump took office. Newly added pages, or deleted pages, are not included in the study, which means the data doesn’t reflect a whole new section of the site now dedicated solely to “abstinence.”

While limited, the results are telling: They reflect an agenda that promotes a view of reproductive health informed by conservative Christian values rather than scientific research or gender inclusiveness.

Health-related reproductive terms used more frequently*

Term Before Trump After Trump Total Increase
faith-based 64 98 34
HIV 821 845 24
STDs (and related terms) 74 89 15
marriage 44 55 11
birth control 27 35 8
HPV 6 12 6
pregnancy 238 242 4
reproductive health 27 31 4
vasectomy 22 26 4
married 19 23 4
condom 17 21 4
teenage pregnancy 5 9 4
pregnancy prevention 48 51 3
abortion/s 47 50 3
abstinence 9 12 3
teen birth 0 3 3
teen pregnancy 46 48 2
abortion 44 46 2
syphilis 39 41 2
human papillomavirus 7 8 2
natural family planning 3 5 2
sexual health 3 5 2
success sequence 0 2 2
counseling 136 137 1
sexual activities 3 4 1
abortions 3 4 1
sexual activity 2 3 1
sexual risk avoidance 0 1 1
teen births 0 1 1

*Department of Health and Human Services’ web pages that existed before and after Trump inauguration

The department removed the only reference to “biological sex,” a term used to describe the gender someone is assigned at birth (which might differ from how someone identifies). And it has introduced new terms like “success sequence,” the idea that there is an ideal order of life events, namely: Finish school, obtain a full-time job, get married, and then have kids.

Health-related reproductive terms used less frequently*

Term Before Trump After Trump Total Decrease
gender 266 198 -68
contraception/contraceptive/s 174 154 -20
pregnancies/pregnancy/pregnant 477 458 -19
sex 306 295 -11
STIs (and related terms) 44 35 -9
AIDS 354 346 -8
teens 32 25 -7
HIV/AIDS 605 601 -4
science based 25 22 -3
evidence-based 289 287 -2
biological sex 1 0 -1
chlamydia 14 13 -1
contraception 61 60 -1
termination 110 109 -1

*Department of Health and Human Services’ web pages that existed before and after Trump inauguration

As the Web Integrity Project notes in their report, many of these changes came when Health and Human Services replaced its strategic plan, publishing new goals for 2018 to 2022. The new plan now uses the term “faith-based” 16 times. Before Trump’s election, the term didn’t show up once.

The drop in use of the term “gender” (68 fewer occurrences in the site) is especially significant because it’s nearly exclusively the consequence of removing it from the department’s section on civil rights, suggesting a reduced focus on gender discrimination on those pages.

 

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