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US president Donald Trump.
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How the Trump administration is changing the language of reproductive health

By 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*

TermBefore TrumpAfter TrumpTotal Increase
faith-based649834
HIV82184524
STDs (and related terms)748915
marriage445511
birth control27358
HPV6126
pregnancy2382424
reproductive health27314
vasectomy22264
married19234
condom17214
teenage pregnancy594
pregnancy prevention48513
abortion/s47503
abstinence9123
teen birth33
teen pregnancy46482
abortion44462
syphilis39412
human papillomavirus782
natural family planning352
sexual health352
success sequence22
counseling1361371
sexual activities341
abortions341
sexual activity231
sexual risk avoidance11
teen births11

*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*

TermBefore TrumpAfter TrumpTotal Decrease
gender266198-68
contraception/contraceptive/s174154-20
pregnancies/pregnancy/pregnant477458-19
sex306295-11
STIs (and related terms)4435-9
AIDS354346-8
teens3225-7
HIV/AIDS605601-4
science based2522-3
evidence-based289287-2
biological sex1-1
chlamydia1413-1
contraception6160-1
termination110109-1

*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.