Librarians notice “abortion” stop word, take action

“The world’s largest database on reproductive health, POPLINE, has been blocking searches using the term “abortion” since late February. The block was removed Friday afternoon…. The search block was discovered by medical librarians doing routine searches.” More on this story from Wired. Johns Hopkins who hosts the database made a strongly worded statement against the blocking of this term.

As near as I can tell, a few things happened in a row. USAID, who funds the database, complained about finding items in the database that did not “fit the criteria” of what the database was created for, items that were apparently pro-abortion in some way. From the Wired article

Sandra Jordan, director of communications in USAID’s office of population and reproductive health, could not identify the documents that prompted her office’s complaint, but said the publications were one-sided in favor of abortion rights. “We are part of the Bush administration, so we have to make sure that all parts of the story are told,” says Jordan. “The administration’s policy is definitely anti-abortion, and the administration does not see abortion as a part of family planning policy.”

The database administrators then dealt with the complaints by making searches for the term “abortion” come up blank, effectively making abortion a stop word in the database. Loriene Roy the president of ALA released a statement supporting Johns Hopkins removing the term from the stop word list.

I find this whole incident exceptionally creepy. While I’m pleased that the outcome was ultimately favorable to open access, the demonstration of the chilling effect of complaints about an information resource and the perhaps well-meaning but utlimately censorious actions of the database administrators is concerning. [thanks sven!]

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