On April 4, Dr. Michael J. Klag, Dean of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, announced that the word “abortion” had been temporarily blocked as a search term in the POPLINE family planning database.1
POPLINE is the world’s largest database on sexual health; providing evidence-based data amounting to about 400,000 journal articles on reproductive health and family planning issues. It is administered by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Officials from USAID conducted a search of the POPLINE database in early February and found articles that they believed constituted advocacy pieces rather than evidence-based articles. The articles were deemed to be a violation of POPLINE's criteria for inclusion in the database as well as a 1973 USAID funding policy which denies federal funding to nongovernmental organizations outside of the United States that provide or promote abortion as a method of family planning.2
POPLINE staff temporarily suspended the word “abortion” as a search term until they could fully search the database and ensure that all other entries were consistent with USAID guidelines. The suspension was neither requested by the USAID nor did POPLINE staff inform the management of the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. John D. Dingell (D), began an investigation on April 16 into why the database briefly blocked the use of the term “abortion.” Dingell wrote in a letter to the administration of USAID, “I am concerned that the restriction of certain search terms in the POPLINE database is an ideological decision and not in line with the spirit of free scientific inquiry intended by the creation of such a database.”3 Dingell sent a similar letter to Dr. Klag.
In response, Dr. Klag immediately restored all searches. He said he found the restriction to be an “overreaction” from POPLINE and “…not consistent with the values of the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Our school is dedicated to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge and not to its restriction.”4 He went on to say that there were other measures available to ensure that the POPLINE database satisfied USAID guidelines and apologized for the inconvenience.
Citations Removed from POPLINE5
1. Marianne Mollmann.
Author: Greenlee-Donnell C
Source: Abortion Magazine. 2008 Winter;3:14-15.
2. How can the human-rights system work for women?
Corporate Author: International Projects Assistance Services [IPAS]
Source: Abortion Magazine. 2008 Winter;3:16-17.
3. Reproductive rights, sexual rights and human rights.
Author: Sherk K
Source: Abortion Magazine. 2008 Winter;3:6-7.
4. The importance of teaching human rights.
Author: Rico B
Source: Abortion Magazine. 2008 Winter;3:12-13.
5. Human rights in Latin America: From discourse to reality.
Author: Billings DL
Source: Abortion Magazine. 2008 Winter;3:8-9.
6. An interview with Monica Roa.
Author: Batchelder E
Source: Abortion Magazine. 2008 Winter;3:10-11.
7. Abortion is a human-rights issue.
Author: Skuster P
Source: Abortion Magazine. 2008 Winter;3:2-3.
- Michael J. Klag, “Statement Regarding POPLINE Database” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Public Health News Center. 4 April 2008, accessed 30 April 2008, www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/press_releases/2008/popline.org
- USAID's Family Planning Guiding Principles and U.S. Legislative and Policy Requirements: Restrictions on Support for Abortions, USAID, accessed 30 April 2008, www.usaid.gov/our_work/global_health/pop/restrictions.html
- “Dingell examining closure of Hopkins health database,.” The Baltimore Sun, 16 April 2008, accessed 30 April 2008, www.baltimoresun.com/news/nation/bal-te.popline16apr16,0,7112518.story
- Michael J. Klag, “Follow Up Statement Regarding POPLINE Database” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Public Health News Center. 8 April 2008, accessed 30 April 2008, www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/popline/poplinestatement.html