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April 6, 2008

The "Awareness" Link Roundup

We figured that since we spent the whole week over at I Read While He Plays Video Games joking around about awareness ribbons, we should demonstrate that the ESC actually is aware of what's been happening this week.

~Some very aware librarians noticed something strange about POPLINE, the world's largest database on reproductive health, which is maintained by Johns Hopkins University and receives funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). They realized that abortion was no longer accepted as a search term. Entering the word 'abortion' into "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database on reproductive health, containing citations with abstracts to scientific articles, reports, books, and unpublished reports in the field of population, family planning, and related health issues" suddenly returned zero results.

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."

If you're not familiar with "stop words," they are typically words like "a," "an," and "the" that are omitted automatically from the search, because they is assumed to have no added value or meaning. Suffice it to say, it's quite unusual for a word with "real" meaning to be a stop word, especially one so relevant to the resource being searched.

The librarian was then advised to do a search for unwanted pregnancy as a substitute, which ignores the fact that these words are not synonyms, as a pregnancy can be unwanted but carried to term or desperately wanted but aborted for various health reasons.

This story quickly made the rounds among angry librarians, medical professionals, and feminists, and calls and emails flooded into Johns Hopkins. They listened, and the Dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released a statement:

I was informed this morning that the word "abortion" was blocked as a search term in the POPLINE family planning database administered by the Bloomberg School’s Center for Communication Programs. POPLINE provides evidence-based information on reproductive health and family planning and is the world’s largest database on these issues.

USAID, which funds POPLINE, found two items in the database related to abortion that did not fit POPLINE criteria. The agency then made an inquiry to POPLINE administrators. Following this inquiry, the POPLINE administrators at the Center for Communication Programs made the decision to restrict abortion as a search term.

I could not disagree more strongly with this decision, and I have directed that the POPLINE administrators restore "abortion" as a search term immediately. I will also launch an inquiry to determine why this change occurred.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is dedicated to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge and not its restriction.

It's interesting that some people affiliated with the federal government think that it's "best" that people don't have access to medically accurate information about a legal medical procedure.

~On the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, John McCain admitted that he voted against a federal holiday to honor Dr. King, and said that he was wrong to do so. Rep. John Conyers, who authored the bill when he and McCain were in the House together, was not so quick to accept his well-timed apology.

~Rush Limbaugh had this to say about feminists and Hillary Clinton's campaign:
And if they -- you know, if Hillary doesn't get it --you have to understand the mindset of a lot of these feminists and women. They think they're owed this -- just like Obama supporters think they're owed this. These women have paid their dues. They've been married two or three times; they've had two or three abortions; they've done everything that feminism asked them to do. They have cut men out of their lives; they have devoted themselves to causes and careers. And this -- the candidacy of Hillary Clinton -- is the culmination of all of these women's efforts. And if it gets stolen from them, in their minds -- not actually stolen, but if the country or if the Democrat [sic] Party rejects this wonderfully great, lying woman in exchange for a rookie, radical black guy who can't tell the time of day, they are going to be so miffed. They are going to be so upset.
This is very upsetting, because clearly somebody is leaking info to Rush about the secret feminist agenda of cutting men out of our lives and then continuing to get ourselves pregnant, using witchcraft and other magical powers, so that we can keep having abortions. We'll have to discuss new security measures at the next top secret women's conference.

~A University of Florida survey has shown that some teenagers believe in some crazy myths about sex--drinking bleach can prevent HIV, and marijuana and Mountain Dew can prevent pregnancy, among others. Florida has the sixth highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation.
The Florida Senate Committee on Education approved the Healthy Teens Act in an attempt to educate students about their sexual health.

According to the University of Florida, most Florida schools teach from abstinence-only curricula, if they teach any sex education programs at all. The proposed legislation would require public schools to provide students with medically accurate information about pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), reports the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.
Hopefully the bill will pass. If it wasn't so sad and misguided, it would be funny to watch the abstinence-only crowd continue to defend their "education" programs in the face of a growing mountain of evidence that abstinence-only just does not work at all.

~Speaking of the dismal failure of abstinence-only "education", 76 members of the House are trying to do something about it.
Seventy-six House lawmakers, including 75 Democrats and Republican Rep. Chris Shays (Conn.), recently signed a letter to Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, urging him to shift funding for HHS' Community-Based Abstinence Education Program to "more effective programs," such as comprehensive sex education, CQ HealthBeat reports. CBAE, which is funded at $113 million for the current fiscal year, gives grants to groups that promote abstinence until marriage but are prohibited from providing information about the benefits of contraception.

The letter did not suggest specific alternative programs that could be funded, CQ HealthBeat reports. Emily Kryder -- press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), who signed the letter -- said that Capps would prefer to fund the type of comprehensive sex education programs authorized by HR 1653 and HR 819, which contain a variety of measures intended to increase access to contraception and comprehensive sex education. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) -- sponsors of HR 1653 and HR 819, respectively -- also signed the letter.

Capps in an e-mail said, "Abstinence-only education, such as that funded through CBAE, doesn't work and is a waste of our limited financial resources." She added, "We need to give our young people access to accurate information that will enable them to make healthy decisions." Shays said, "The extraordinary number of teen pregnancies and growing rate of sexually transmitted disease transmission among teens underscores the necessity of comprehensive sexual education." He added that children "need a responsible education that includes both abstinence and contraception approaches to pregnancy prevention and sexual health."
With more states rejecting federal abstinence-only funding every day, this is one issue where it seems like real progress is (slowly) being made.

~"Women serving in the U.S. military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq."

Note: This doesn't mean that we're done joking about Awareness on the comic blog. There is still more to come, so stay tuned.

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