NPR Uncovers More Info on POPLINE Controversy

By Rachel Walden — April 9, 2008

Morning Edition has a piece today on the POPLINE controversy, indicating that the issue arose because one recent issue of A Magazine “focused on abortion as a human rights issue and profiled abortion rights advocates around the world,” and USAID did not want these articles included in the database.

In other words, federally-funded USAID didn’t like the politics of one issue of the publication, so decided that it should not be accessible through the major database on global reproductive health.

It seems strange that this one specific issue of the magazine was targeted for removal because USAID objected to its “advocacy.” A quick search of POPLINE retrieved other citations that USAID could easily remove by this standard, such as a document from the International Women’s Health Coalition entitled, “The Global Gag Rule: putting politics before public health.”

I found records for numerous other publications that discuss global access to safe abortion as an important public health and women’s rights issue, such as a 2002 issue of Reproductive Health Matters which the editorial describes thusly: “These papers are by women’s health advocates, medical professionals, researchers and others working for safe, legal abortion in their countries. These papers advocate safe abortion as a public health goal and legal abortion as a woman’s right, including for marginalised populations such as refugee women.”

What guarantee do we have that USAID will not also press for the removal of these and other citations? Will every individual reference that does not bolster their political agenda be removed quietly, with no notification to database users that they are not retrieving as much information as they should be? I am personally deeply offended by the suggestion that, when our government chooses not to fund a specific procedure, we should also be limited in our ability to find opinions opposing that position.

Ipas, the international reproductive rights and public health organization producing the magazine in question, has issued a response, in which they question the logic of USAID’s approach of restricting “the free flow of information about this important topic.” Ipas Vice President Ana Kumar stated: “Ipas approaches abortion from a human-rights and public health perspective. Thousands of women are dying from unsafe abortion and millions more are injured. Women are putting their lives at risk while we are dithering about words. How is this not a human-rights issue?”

Cross-posted at Women’s Health News.

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