The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared that her agency has not been prohibited from using certain words in its budget process.
A report by The Washington Post on Dec. 15 suggested the CDC had been told not to use the words "fetus," "transgender," "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "evidence-based" and "science-based" in its budget documents.
But the CDC's Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald dismissed the report in a tweet on Dec. 17.
"I want to assure you there are no banned words at CDC," wrote Fitzgerald, according to PBS. "We will continue to talk about all our important public health programs."
Some CDC officials indicated in the original report they had been given alternative phrases to use in budget documents.
"CDC has a long-standing history of making public health and budget decisions that are based on the best available science and data and for the benefit of all people -- and we will continue to do so," added Fitzgerald.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services also pushed back on the idea of any kind of censorship.
"The assertion that HHS has 'banned words' is a complete mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget formulation process," Matt Lloyd told PBS. "HHS will continue to use the best scientific evidence available to improve the health of all Americans. HHS also strongly encourages the use of outcome and evidence data in program evaluations and budget decisions."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, another arm of HHS, stated that it has not been informed of any ban.
"We haven't received, nor implemented, any directives with respect to the language used at FDA to describe our policy or budget issues," a spokesman told Science magazine.
According to an investigation by the magazine, the policy may already be in effect. It reported that the seven words appear two-thirds less often in President Donald Trump's budget request to Congress for 2018 than they did in President Barack Obama's last request for 2017.
For Dr. Sandro Galea, from Boston University's School of Public Health, reports that certain words are to be avoided would have wide-ranging consequences.
"If you are saying you cannot use words like 'transgender' and 'diversity,' it's a clear statement that you cannot pay attention to these issues," Galea said, according to PBS.
The alleged ban has triggered protests. A Jewish group, the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, demonstrated against the reported prohibition on Dec. 18 at the Massachusetts Statehouse.
"We think there is no more dangerous precedent to set than the banning of free speech," Cindy Row, the group's executive director, told MassLive.
A small protest was also held by scientists outside the CDC's offices in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 18.