The U.S. administration's assault on women's rights continues unabated.
Day after day I stumble on story after story from south of the border about yet another attack on women's reproductive rights. Like the bill in Missouri that would classify the morning-after pill as ''abortifacient'' and allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense it. Or the potential violation of some 2,000 women's medical privacy. Or the senate candidate who legally changed his name to ''Pro-Life.'' Or the hijacking of the hit Dr. Seuss movie, Horton Hears a Who, by anti-abortion activists. (And, speaking of Whoville, what is the deal with the sexism injected into the movie?)
Here in the Great Pink North, we have Bill C-484, now before Parliamentary committee. Officially titled "An Act to amend the Criminal Code (injuring or causing the death of an unborn child while committing an offence)" it is usually called "The Unborn Victims of Crime Act."
Its supporters say it protects pregnant women from violent attacks which harm or kill their fetuses. But it does nothing of the kind.
Meanwhile, women's groups recognize it for what it is...the beginning of the end of a woman's right to choose.
Those who oppose a woman's right to control her body and destiny are all for the bill. Those who believe women have the right to choose are against it.
Which says plenty.
But not nearly as much as something going on in the feminist cybersphere. There's a ''call-out'' going on, a challenge to anti-abortion bloggers to come up with a single legitimate ''established organization working against violence against women that publicly endorses this bill.'' So far, nada.
If you think that some of the Bush administration's conservative politics – and Orwellian moves – in the U.S. can't affect Canada, then you have some research to do.
Ten days ago at the University of California in San Francisco, librarian Gloria Won was running through POPLINE (POPulation information onLINE), billed as "the world's largest database on reproductive health." Maintained by Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University, and freely available to medical schools, health organizations and the public, it is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Won was stymied. Entering the keyword "abortion," she kept getting the message "No records found." Odd, because she had done a similar search in January and found thousands of scholarly and peer-reviewed articles on the subject. When she emailed POPLINE, database manager Debra Dickson replied: "We recently made all abortion terms stop words."
Which means that, just like "the" and "and" and other words databases and browsers such as Google ignore, POPLINE would not recognize "abortion."
"As a federally funded project, we decided this was best for now," explained Dickson, who suggested that Won search with "fertility control" or "postconception" instead.
George Orwell would have called this a "thoughtcrime."
That's because, on his very first full day as U.S. president in 2001, George W. Bush resurrected the "global gag rule," which makes nongovernmental organizations certify that they "will not perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning" if they want USAID funding.
By late last week, censorship was the talk of the librarian community. And no wonder. This is the kind of thing China does when you search "Tiananmen Square."
Now, if you read the whole thing, and I hope that you do, you will learn that nobody ordered the POPLINE people to make ''abortion'' a stop word. It was an overreaction to a call from USAID, which took exception to two -- out of some 25,000 -- articles in the database.
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 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.
The word has been restored, and the Johns Hopkins people stepped in quickly to denounce its
Such is Bush's America where you have to watch what you say – and where women have to watch what they do.
And so, rather than risk losing its funding, an organization dedicated to health research and medical information would send "abortion" down the memory hole.
But there's more than a word at stake here – it's an indicator of how, both in Canada and the U.S., women's reproductive choices, are also threatened with erasure.