The fact-hating administration has declared war on words like “fetus,” “science-based,” and “evidence-based.” And that spells fascism.
The Trump administration has decided it really wants us to stop using the F-word.
No, not that one. Fetus.
Like a bad conservative-Christian George Carlin skit, there are allegedly now seven words that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is now forbidden to use in their official documents: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based.” According to a report out from the Washington Post this weekend, the mandate is the latest strike by Republican president Donald Trump’s new Health and Human Services Department (HHS), which has apparently decided that 1984 was actually an instruction manual for governing rather than a cautionary tale about resisting fascism.
The Trump administration’s attempt to play ostrich with its head in the sand when faced with scientific facts that don’t match up to their Biblical worldview sadly may not be relegated to the CDC or this list of words, either. According to The Week, “The Washington Post reported Saturday evening that other divisions in the HHS have been given the same list of banned terms. Furthermore, staff at one agency were reportedly told to say ‘ObamaCare’ instead of ‘Affordable Care Act,’ and ObamaCare ‘exchanges’ instead of ‘marketplaces,’ while the State Department is calling sex education ‘sexual risk avoidance.’”
The CDC and the HHS are both pushing back on the allegations, but at this point it would be unsurprising to learn that the GOP is desperate to make any sort of non-married, non-heterosexual, non-baby-producing sex to simply magically disappear, and that they hope that if you can’t talk about it, you can’t do it, either. But banning words isn’t just about hiding all the naughty words so that the children won’t be corrupted—it also has the added benefit of undermining facts and sowing doubt around scientific consensus.
Replacing and redefining scientific terms already reared its head in the Department of Health and Human Services’s draft strategic plan released in October. In it, the HHS announced its role as “serving and protecting Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception,” defining a person as being anything after the moment sperm and egg meet. Just days later executive orders began flowing that blocked contraception access, undermined LGBT rights, and created a new extended protected class for those with conservative religious beliefs.
As Think Progress reported on October 11, “On Friday, the administration rolled back an Obama-era requirement for employers to include birth-control coverage in their health-insurance plans. The new rule cited doubtful science, as pointed out by several health writers. Like the HHS directive, the rule ignored science-based evidence that improved contraceptive use correlates with a decline in overall adolescent pregnancy and instead cited research largely argued by the religious right. Also on Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a memorandum on religious liberty protections for all executive departments and agencies, which could influence LGBTQ rights in addition to reproductive rights.”
With the Trump administration’s zeal for ignoring all science-based evidence—be it on birth control, fetal development, climate change, environmental impacts, and so on— it’s no wonder that they would find it much simpler to get rid of the phrase altogether rather than be faced with it over and over again as science and policy experts oppose them. As “science-based” and “evidence-based” are magically replaced with “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” suddenly all scientific consensuses are in doubt and gets to be put up to a popular vote. It’s the Fox News-ification of science. As a follow-up, they will probably next declare global warming solved if they can get 3 million signatures on a petition calling it a hoax.
Casting doubt in verified scientific consensus is the bread and butter of the anti-abortion movement, which has created an entire cottage industry around anti-science. For every ACOG (American Congress of Gynecologists) there is an AAPLOG (American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists), every Guttmacher study is rebutted by the Charlotte Lozier Institute. And woe be to anyone who gets the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Pediatricians confused. Undermining scientific consensus allows the right to life movement to blockade progress in health and medical interventions on a case by case basis so that they don’t have to see a logical inconsistency in arguing that abortion should be banned at 22 weeks because a fetus can now sometimes survive with enough support, but that contraception should be banned based on assumptions on how it works that is now decades out of date.
Meanwhile, speaking of that now dirty “F-word,” there’s no indication what the Trump administration would want to see used as a replacement for “fetus.” But it seems safe to assume that the CDC and other government agencies would be asked to use the phrase “unborn baby” instead, or perhaps even “preborn child,” another popular anti-abortion phrase. Both serve the social conservatives’ purpose of injecting emotional value into a non-biased, scientifically accurate word.
What it doesn’t serve, however, are those who will be most at risk when science and research are watered down by those who believe that poverty is a sign of weakness, that being attracted to the same sex is a moral failing, or that an unwanted pregnancy is either a divine gift if you give birth or a grievous sin if you do not. It doesn’t serve the vast population of “at risk” (since we aren’t allowed to say “vulnerable”) individuals from a variety of sexual backgrounds and genders (but not “transgender” since that is a no-no) and who come from all sorts of ethnic, economic, gendered, and/or racial backgrounds (but watch and be sure you don’t acknowledge their “diversity”), all of whom would rather be treated with and addressed through medications and treatments “based on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” as long as that community is made of honest-to-God trained scientists and not a bunch of Evangelical Christians.
We are one year into the Trump administration and I’m running out of Fs to give already. If they are really going to try to take “fetus” from my arsenal, too, well, I guess I’m going to be ready with one last giant F-you to the White House when it happens.
There’s never been a more important time for quality journalism. You can help by supporting DAME’s reporting, commentary, and cultural criticism. Because it matters who covers the news. And it matters who covers women’s issues in the news. Become a supporter today.
AN INDEPENDENT FREE PRESS HAS
NEVER BEEN MORE IMPORTANT.
Your financial support helps DAME continue to cover the critical policies, politics and social changes impacting woman and their allies.