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Access to Abortion Search to be Restored in POPLINE; Johns Hopkins Releases Statement

April 4, 2008

Following Wednesday’s revelation that the USAID-funded POPLINE reproductive health database had deliberately blocked users from performing a simple search on “abortion” because, “As a federally funded project, we decided this was best for now,” medical librarians, feminists, public health professionals and others responded with outraged blog posts and calls and letters to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where the database is managed.

Today, Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH (Dean of the School at Hopkins) has released a statement detailing the events and indicating that the ability to search the database for “abortion” will be restored.

Dr. Klag notes:

I was informed this morning that the word “abortion” was blocked as a search term in the POPLINE family planning database administered by the Bloomberg School’s Center for Communication Programs. POPLINE provides evidence-based information on reproductive health and family planning and is the world’s largest database on these issues.

USAID, which funds POPLINE, found two items in the database related to abortion that did not fit POPLINE criteria. The agency then made an inquiry to POPLINE administrators. Following this inquiry, the POPLINE administrators at the Center for Communication Programs made the decision to restrict abortion as a search term.

I could not disagree more strongly with this decision, and I have ordered that the POPLINE administrators restore “abortion” as a search term immediately. I will also launch an inquiry to determine why this change occurred.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is dedicated to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge and not its restriction.

Thank you to everyone who worked to call attention to this issue.

Cross-posted at Our Bodies Our Blog

Wired has some additional follow-up, as does the New York Times.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Erika permalink
    April 4, 2008 1:35 pm

    I’ll be interested to know what those items were…

  2. Monica permalink
    April 4, 2008 1:57 pm

    *large sigh of relief*

  3. Jean Sack permalink
    April 4, 2008 2:48 pm

    Thank you, Dean Klag, for recognizing that one simple word deleted can mean an intellectual freedom blockade of very helpful materials on reproductive health. Developing country project reports, interventions, statistics, and grey literature on the subject of abortion is extremely difficult to obtain, except through POPLINE. I’m sure you are aware of the devastating censorship that occurred in Dhaka regarding this issue — ask Dr. David Sack.

    As a funder (taxpayer) of the our US Government agency, USAID, I definitely want my tax dollars to be spent on equal and fair access to information, despite the political climate! Hopkins has earned deserved respect in your brave response. However, you may be jeopardizing more that ICDDR,B had to give up in Hopkins-based USAID project funding ($4 million lost from ICDDR,B I believe), but basic 1st Amendment Rights still available in the USA may protect your school and it’s life-saving projects. We were helpless in Bangladesh to fight USAID up front and were “rescued” by other government funders from Britain, Netherlands and Sweden who were aghast at the Bush government Mexico City and Trafficing certifications (gag rules for research & service).

    Thanks again – talk to David before he goes off to Dhaka on the 15th April,svp

  4. April 4, 2008 2:57 pm

    One thing we noticed is likely a dbase hiccup is the following.

    1) A search for abortion returns 1894 results.

    2) However, a subject search entered, =”abortion” returns nearly 25,000 hits.

    The same is true for a keyword search =”abortion”.

    Perhaps they are rebuilding the entire dbase or the problematic Popline search engine is causing issues.


    a basic keyword search, simply the word abortion is only searching specific fields.

  5. April 4, 2008 3:11 pm

    Gary, I think they must still be working on it – every time I re-run the search, I get more results.

  6. April 4, 2008 3:57 pm

    Good eye Rachel. It’s up to 4500 now.

  7. Erika permalink
    April 4, 2008 4:33 pm

    Wired has a bit more info:

  8. April 4, 2008 4:37 pm

    Thanks, Erika, for pointing me to that – I’ve now added it to the post.

  9. April 5, 2008 10:08 am

    thanks rachel and all the librarians who jumped on this one.

    the story is on page 10 of New York Times hardcopy today, 4/10/08. should be on front page instead of “Clintons Made $109 Million…” we knew that. it’s the fast-moving erosion of freedom of information we need to wake up with every morning.

  10. April 5, 2008 10:17 am

    correction: in last comment, “today” is Saturday, April 5.

  11. April 5, 2008 7:51 pm

    Thanks, Naomi, I’ll add a link to it to the post. [As a totally off-topic aside, I just sent the Oberlin alumni mag a note last night that they really should profile Barbara.]

  12. Erika` permalink
    April 5, 2008 9:19 pm

    Maybe we should get all the librarians to start emailing that NYTimes story around so that it ends up on the “top mailed” list and gets more attention!


  1. Library Juice » Popline blocking searches on “abortion”
  2. derivative work » Blog Archive » federally funded censorship about abortion
  3. Maud Newton: Blog
  4. Why is a Government-Funded Reproductive Health Database Blocking Users from Searching for Abortion Articles? « Women’s Health News
  5. Update on abortion/POPLINE « Feminist Philosophers
  6. POPLINE kerfuffle follow-up « Social Justice Librarian
  7. It’s Not Just Setting Abortion as a Stop Word, REMOVAL of Articles Also Occured « The Crone Speaks
  8. | Response to POPLINE censorship
  9. Health Search Engine Blocks ‘Abortion’ As A Search Term In Order To Keep Federal Funding
  10. Banco de pesquisa sobre saúde bloqueia resultados de buscas por “aborto” « Panóptico
  11. US-funded health search-engine censors all results for searches on “abortion” — UPDATED | domain yahoo
  12. POPLINE Problem Not Entirely Resolved « Women’s Health News

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