In a Post Roe v. Wade America, Should Librarians Be Worried About Helping Patron Find Abortion Information?
With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, many states have enacted laws that not only restrict a person’s access to abortion services, but also criminalize helping a person seek an abortion. Now library workers in states with these types of restrictive abortion laws are wondering if providing information about abortion is also restricted under these laws.
In July 2022, staff at the Metropolitan Library System (MLS) in Oklahoma were told not to help patrons access information about abortion, the message to staff going so far as the warn them to not even use the word abortion when speaking to patrons. Oklahoma has had a total abortion ban in place since the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. MLS staff were told, “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. 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.” They were also told to be mindful of people who might try to trick library workers to give out abortion information just so they can report them to authorities.
According to reports from a MLS employee, executive director of the MLS, Larry White, stated in an email to staff that this guidance about abortion information was given in response to MLS’s review of the state law by their legal team. In meeting notes from a July 14th manager’s meeting, there is a bullet point stating that staff can direct patrons to a computer or medical database in order for them to conduct their own search, and that the library can provide information about the state laws related to the topic, but that seems to be as far as the MLS was willing for staff to go as of July 14th. MLS staff did receive an update to this guidance that stated that they can provide factual information about abortion and the laws pertaining to it, but that they “should not offer opinions surrounding the law” or “actively assist anyone in breaking the laws of Oklahoma.”
The library employee from MLS who came forward anonymously to the press was quoted saying, “I strongly believe that morality-wise, anybody who cares more about their positions in a library than they do about their income from the library will support their moralities and give the information anyway.” The American Library Association released a statement in support of patrons rights to information access, including reproductive health information, on August 9th, 2022. In states with restrictive abortion laws, librarians may have to decide what statues are more important for them to adhere to—state law or the First Amendment.
Tayla Cardillo is the Branch Librarian of the Oak Lawn Branch Library in Cranston, RI. Before her current position she was a YA librarian. She completed her MLIS at the University of Rhode Island and her B.A. in English at Rhode Island College. Tayla has known that she wanted to be a librarian since she was 17 years old. When not doing library wizardry, she enjoys playing tabletop games and cosplaying.