NEW YORK – Health leaders say they are alarmed about a report that officials at the nation's top public health agency are being told not to use certain words or phrases in official budget documents, including “fetus,” “transgender” and “science-based.”
The health community was reacting to a story in the Washington Post published late Friday citing an anonymous source who said the prohibition was made at a recent meeting of senior budget officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The seven words and phrases – “diversity,” “entitlement,” “fetus,” transgender,” “vulnerable,” “evidence-based” and “science-based” – were not to be used in documents that are to be circulated within the federal government and Congress in preparation of the next presidential budget proposal, the newspaper reported.
On Saturday, a CDC official confirmed CDC officials were given “feedback” from higher ranks of the federal government at a recent meeting to reconsider certain language in draft budget documents. But she said she did not know whether there was any specific prohibition about using those seven words. She spoke on condition of anonymity, saying she was not authorized to talk about what happened.
A spokesman at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees CDC, said in a statement that it's a mischaracterization to say the CDC was banned from using certain words. But HHS officials did not clarify or answer any other questions.
In an email to the agency's employees Saturday night, CDC Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald noted the media report and wrote: “I want to assure you that CDC remains committed to our public health mission as a science- and evidence-based institution.”
Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of Boston University's School of Public Health, says these things matter “because the words that we use ultimately describe what we care about and what we think are priorities.”
Since President Donald Trump took office, a number of federal agencies have moved to downscale data collection on topics like climate change and homeless people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender and to remove information on such topics from some government websites.