U.S. Funded Health Search Engine Blocks ‘Abortion’
By SARAH LAI STIRLAND
April 4, 2008 —
A U.S. government-funded medical information site that bills itself as the world’s largest database on reproductive health has quietly begun to block searches on the word “abortion,” concealing nearly 25,000 search results.
Called Popline, the search site is run by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland. It’s funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, the federal office in charge of providing foreign aid, including health care funding, to developing nations.
The massive database indexes a broad range of reproductive health literature, including titles like “Previous abortion and the risk of low birth weight and preterm births,” and “Abortion in the United States: Incidence and access to services, 2005.”
But on Thursday, a search on “abortion” was producing only the message "No records found by latest query."
Stephen Goldstein, a spokesman for Johns Hopkins, said he wasn’t aware of the censorship, and couldn’t immediately comment.
Under a Reagan-era policy revived by President Bush in 2001, USAID denies funding to non-governmental organizations that perform abortions, or that “actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations.”
A librarian at the University of California at San Francisco noticed the new censorship on Monday, while carrying out a routine research request on behalf of academics and researchers at the university. The search term had functioned properly as of January.
Puzzled, she contacted the manager of the database, Johns Hopkins’ Debbie Dickson, who replied in an April 1st e-mail that the university had recently begun blocking the search term because the database received federal funding.
“We recently made all abortion terms stop words,” Dickson wrote in a note to Gloria Won, the UCSF medical center librarian making the inquiry. "As a federally funded project, we decided this was best for now."
There was no notice of the change on the site.
My first reaction was, “That’s going a bit far” since the block also excludes ‘abortion causes uterine cancer’ & the like. But on second reading, nothing like this is even implied in the administration’s policy. I think they’re trying to convince the public, “The White House is censoring health information.”