As leaked by Foreign Policy last week, recent State Department memos suggest that American diplomats may soon be unable to use words essential to discussions of reproductive rights. If Secretary of State Mike Pompeo approves the memos’ proposal, officials will be banned from saying “sexual and reproductive health” and “comprehensive sexuality education,” and would instead use the term “reproduction and the related health services.” This follows the State Department’s pattern of treatment of gender-related language. Its annual human rights report this year trimmed language focused on family planning, and officials have worked to remove the term “gender” from multiple UN human rights documents.
While the policy implications of this change remain unclear, the alteration in language could complicate United Nations discussions regarding reproductive health issues and funding for NGOs that maintain their vocabulary use. The removal of “gender” from State Department usage further excludes transgender individuals from political discussions; the Department of Health and Human Services also recently moved to establish a binary legal definition of “sex” under Title IX.