U.S. diplomats may soon be prohibited from using the phrases “sexual and reproductive health” and “comprehensive sexuality education” under a proposal being floated to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, four people familiar with the issue said.
The proposal is being pushed by a handful of conservative political appointees at the State Department and other agencies, including Mari Stull, an adviser at State whose alleged mistreatment of career government staffers has already sparked multiple federal investigations.
It was not immediately clear what sort of direct policy changes, if any, could result from eliminating such terms, which have been used for years in domestic and international communications.
But changing the terms could lead to more contentious negotiations at the United Nations and other forums over language used for resolutions and agreements. It also could complicate matters for some non-governmental groups that receive U.S. funding and opt to stick with the traditional terms.
At the very least, abandoning the use of the word “sex” would be a symbolic move that aligns with other Trump administration efforts to reduce funding for and focus on women’s reproductive issues — especially anything related to abortion.
The proposal is contained in a memo that still needs Pompeo’s approval to take effect, according to two of the people who talked to POLITICO. Foreign Policy on Tuesday reported some details of the memo.
Instead of “sexual and reproductive health” and “comprehensive sexuality education,” U.S. officials would be instructed to use phrases like “reproduction and the related health services” in official communications, one of the people familiar with the issue said, while cautioning that could change.
Alternate terms proposed for use are expected to be accompanied by definitions as to what sort of programs or treatments they cover, another one of the people said.
The State Department did not reply to repeated requests for comment on the memo or whether Pompeo would sign it. The four sources who spoke to POLITICO were outside human rights and health advocates who are in touch with people inside the State Department.
One of President Donald Trump’s first moves after taking office was to revive and expand the so-called Mexico City policy, which prior Republican presidents have implemented and which bars U.S. aid to groups that provide or promote abortion overseas. The State Department also has removed language about women’s access to contraception and abortion from its annual human rights reports.
Stull and another political appointee, Bethany Kozma, are behind the push to restrict the terminology, three of the people familiar with the issue said. The pair tried to initially put the proposal in a diplomatic cable to all embassies. But they switched it to a memo for Pompeo after career staffers warned they were circumventing protocol. Cables are typically signed by the secretary or one of his top deputies, and Pompeo could still send a cable if he approves the memo, one source said.
As a Kansas congressman between 2011 and 2017, Pompeo was known for his anti-abortion views and criticism of LGBTQ protections, co-sponsoring legislation that would have allowed states to subvert the Supreme Court’s protections for same-sex marriage.
“When I was a politician, I had a very clear view on whether it was appropriate for two same-sex persons to marry,” Pompeo said during his April 2018 confirmation hearings to run the State Department. “I stand by that.”