Librarians, students, feminists, writing teachers â€” heck, anyone who cares about information literacy, access to information, politics, etc. â€” here’s something you should be aware of. Via Nels, the word “abortion” has been blocked as a term in an information database:
Ten days ago at the University of California in San Francisco, librarian Gloria Won was running through POPLINE (POPulation information onLINE), billed as “the world’s largest database on reproductive health.” Maintained by Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University, and freely available to medical schools, health organizations and the public, it is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Won was stymied. Entering the keyword “abortion,” she kept getting the message “No records found.” Odd, because she had done a similar search in January and found thousands of scholarly and peer-reviewed articles on the subject. When she emailed POPLINE, database manager Debra Dickson replied: “We recently made all abortion terms stop words.”
Which means that, just like “the” and “and” and other words databases and browsers such as Google ignore, POPLINE would not recognize “abortion.”
“As a federally funded project, we decided this was best for now,” explained Dickson, who suggested that Won search with “fertility control” or “postconception” instead.
George Orwell would have called this a “thoughtcrime.”
This is the kind of thing China does when you search “Tiananmen Square.”
But there’s more than a word at stake here â€“ it’s an indicator of how, both in Canada and the U.S., women’s reproductive choices, are also threatened with erasure.
UPDATE: I guess the word was restored as a search word on April 6:
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has restored the word â€œabortionâ€ as an acceptable search term on the POPLINE Web site, following criticism from some health advocates and librarians that the restriction amounted to censorship.