Report: “Oklahoma Threatens Librarians: ‘Don’t Use the Word Abortion'”
UPDATED POST (7/22) with Additional Coverage:
Library workers across Oklahoma’s Metropolitan Library System (MLS) were shocked this week after receiving instructions to avoid using the word “abortion” and not to help patrons locate abortion-related information on either library computers or their own devices. Workers were warned that they could be held legally liable and face penalties under the state’s abortion laws.
“If a staff member gives any information on how to obtain an abortion, then that person may be found personally liable and will also make MLS liable,” says a memo, which was obtained by Motherboard after being emailed to workers at one library branch in the Oklahoma City area. “Civil penalties include a $10,000 fine plus jail time and the staff member will lose their job due to being informed by MLS and disregarding the warning.”
With 19 branch locations and more than 400 employees, MLS is the largest library system in Oklahoma. Internal documents obtained by Motherboard—including meeting minutes from a monthly managers’ meeting held on July 14—include talking points for how to communicate system-wide about the gag order for library workers.
Library managers were specifically instructed “Don’t talk about it, and especially don’t use the word abortion,” and were told that libraries and individual workers “could be held liable in a civil suit for providing information that leads to someone procuring an abortion,” according to the meeting minutes. The notes also say that librarians can direct patrons toward medical databases, to a computer to run their own search, or to state statutes if patrons have questions about laws pertaining to the topic.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.