Apr 032008

Think that the abortion issue gets too much attention? Well the folks at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have found an innovative solution to the problem–block the word from being searchable on their Popline Database. No joke. Rachel at Women’s Health News has the story:

“Today through medical librarian channels, I got word that entering “abortion” as a search term in the POPLINE database now returns zero results because of a move by the database personnel to block that search. For background, POPLINE is “the world’s largest database on reproductive health, containing citations with abstracts to scientific articles, reports, books, and unpublished reports in the field of population, family planning, and related health issues.” This may seem like a long and libraryland-focused post, but I think it’s important, because it touches on government, reproductive health, and access to information, so stick with me on this one.

The librarian who noted the problem inquired about it, and was informed that it wasn’t a simple technical glitch; the response she received was, “We recently made all abortion terms stop words. As a federally funded project, we decided this was best for now.””

“The librarian was then advised to do a search for unwanted pregnancy as a substitute, which ignores the fact that these words are not synonyms, as a pregnancy can be unwanted but carried to term or desperately wanted but aborted for various health reasons.”

Accidental glitch? Probably not. As Rachel points out, ”

It’s important to note that POPLINE isn’t just a project of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (the logo displayed at the top of the screen), but is in fact funded by USAID.

Yes, that USAID, of Global Gag Rule fame, which has been criticized because family planning agencies around the world are prevented from receiving assistance if they perform or counsel their clients about abortion (even if that work is funded through other sources), and through which much controversial abstinence-only money is channeled.”

Amie Newman at RH Reality Check sums it up,

“POPLINE’s explanation is utterly insufficient. Abortion is a medical term for a legal procedure. Politics has absolutely no place in the medical database of one of the most prestigious universities in this country.”

Amie also has this interesting tidbit about the topic of reproductive justice,

“Sarah Seltzer wrote an excellent piece today about the invisibility of women’s issues, in particular reproductive health and rights, on otherwise progressive programs like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Bill Maher. She writes, “Cristina (Page) mentioned that a Daily Show staffer had dismissed the idea of her appearing on the show to promote her book, “How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America.” The reason? The topic was ‘too serious’.”

Reproductive rights being dismissed by the progressive, newer-boys network is not merely frustrating – it’s offensive.”

Yes, it truly is offensive and what is the deal with a Daily Staffer saying that reproductive justice is too serious???t  This on a show that discusses war and elections and global warming on a regular basis. Seriously.

I believe I hear George Orwell channeling from the grave, “It was fiction.”

 April 3, 2008  Posted by on April 3, 2008

  2 Responses to “If We Make The Word “Abortion” Disappear…Orwell Would Be Proud”

  1. […] Feminist Peace Network » If We Make The Word “Abortion” Disappear…Orwell Would Be Proud Says: April 3, 2008 at 6:39 pm […]

  2. As someone who has worked in public health on USAID-funded projects, I am not at all surprised by this unfortunate, deliberate obfuscation. USAID doesn’t exactly “legislate” language, but they have a “grey list” of terms that one should think twice about using in a proposal or report. (For example, “adolescent sexual and reproductive health” is discouraged. If you remove “sexual,” it’s OK.)

    I think that the “grey list” is deplorable. And it is absolutely deplorable that POPLINE has removed “abortion” as a search term, especially considering that USAID does fund post-abortion care programs (i.e., programs providing care and treatment to women who have had complications due to an unsafe and/or possibly illegal abortion procedure). However, I am not surprised. Given the amount of money that USAID is in control of and the power they wield in the public health world, there is a reticence among funding recipients (such as JHU and POPLINE) to do anything that would damage the relationship with the purse-holder. Clearly, policies such as the Global Gag Rule have a chilling effect in the US as well.

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