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April 8, 2008

Follow Up Statement Regarding POPLINE Database

On Friday, April 4, I learned that the administrators of the POPLINE family-planning database had blocked the term "abortion" as a keyword, which made it more difficult for users of the database to find information on the topic. When I learned of this decision, I immediately reversed it. Full access to the database was restored within hours. I was also determined to find out why the restriction was instituted in the first place. I am reporting today on the results of my inquiry.

The POPLINE database, which is funded by USAID and administered by the Bloomberg School's Center for Communication Programs, provides evidence-based information on reproductive health and family planning. It is the world's largest database on these issues and it contains about 400,000 records. POPLINE has been administered by the Center for Communication Programs for approximately 30 years.

It is our understanding that USAID, the federal agency that funds POPLINE, is restricted by law from funding any abortion activities or supplies. The restrictions are stated at http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/global_health/pop/restrictions.html.

All awardees are informed of these restrictions and USAID has a long history of enforcing compliance.

In February, a search by USAID officials found two items in the POPLINE database that advocated for abortion. Because they were advocacy materials, they did not meet the criteria for inclusion in the database. The agency informed POPLINE administrators who removed them from POPLINE. POPLINE administrators also found and removed from the database five other items from the same issue of the same magazine, for the same reason: They were advocacy materials and did not meet the criteria for inclusion in the database. [Note: Citations to the removed materials are listed below.]

POPLINE administrators took the additional step of temporarily restricting "abortion" as a search term while the database was examined for other information that might not have been consistent with USAID guidelines.

USAID did not request this action, although the agency was informed that it had been taken. POPLINE administrators did not inform management of the Bloomberg School of Public Health of their decision.

In my judgment, the decision to block the search term was an overreaction on the part of POPLINE staff. Other measures are available to us for ensuring that items in the POPLINE database meets USAID guidelines.

Further, the decision to block "abortion" as a search term, even though it was intended as a temporary measure, was 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.

The Center for Communication Programs and the Bloomberg School of Public Health deeply regret the action that was taken to restrict the use of the search term. Unfettered access to information is essential for informed debate and rational choices in any field, especially in family planning.

We will work with our staff to reinforce their appreciation of the importance of academic integrity and of the central role of universities in our society in the dissemination of information.

Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH
Dean, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Citations Removed from POPLINE

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.

Media contacts: Tim Parsons at 410-955-7619 at tmparson@jhsph.edu or Dennis O'Shea at 443-287-9960 or dro@jhu.edu.