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Government-Funded Database Blocks Users from Searching for Abortion Articles

This story is going around on the medical/life sciences library listservs today. Apparently, the POPLINE database has made the word “abortion” (and possibly other related terms) into search stopwords like AND or THE which cannot be searched. The term is still listed as a keyword, but entering it in the search box as a subject or keyword gets zero result. According to an email exchange forwarded around on these listservs, this appears to be a purely political decision, not based on that being a non-useful search term in the database. The POPLINE database, funded by USAID and hosted at Johns Hopkins U is a free database on population issues.

[E]ntering “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database on reproductive health, containing citations with abstracts to scientific articles, reports, books, and unpublished reports in the field of population, family planning, and related health issues.”

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.”

I found a document, Abortion-seeking behaviour among Nigerian women, that includes the keyword ABORTION and clicked on the link to that term at the bottom of the citation and got other hits, but, as noted above, using the search function did not return these articles.

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