Citing recently enacted and proposed state legislation in a number of states, the ALA executive committee this week issued a statement condemning states for including provisions that would allow for criminal or civil liability for providing information about abortion services.
“[Recently enacted] legislation and proposals to adopt similar legislation in other states has prompted concerns that provisions within those bills may be used to pursue criminal or civil charges against library workers for providing library users access to reproductive health information, including information about abortion. Some of these bills incentivize individuals to pursue civil action against individuals with the promise of financial gain,” the ALA statement reads. “It is the professional responsibility of library workers to curate resources and provide assistance to library users seeking information without imposing their personal beliefs or engaging in viewpoint discrimination. They do so in compliance with state and federal laws and the U.S. Constitution, including those provisions that safeguard information access and patron privacy.”
The statement comes after librarians in Oklahoma were reportedly told to “steer clear of offering any advice about abortion to patrons seeking information about the procedure in the wake of multiple abortion bans in the state, according to a report in the Oklahoman. Although the report said it remains “unclear if library employees would face lawsuits under Oklahoma's House Bill 4327 or Senate Bill 1503,” the state laws, like the law already passed in neighboring Texas, would allow “private citizens to bring lawsuits against someone who performs an abortion or "aids or abets" someone in getting an abortion.
ALA says it is “developing guidance” for libraries and library workers and working with other organizations to “oppose any efforts to limit access to constitutionally protected information or limit privacy protections” for library users.
“We encourage library workers to report efforts to censor information and to seek support from the Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Leroy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund should they be threatened with loss of employment or discharged because of their stand for the cause of intellectual freedom, their defense of privacy rights, or their professional duty to select items for their collections from all the world’s written and recorded information,” the ALA statement reads. ALA is also calling in elected officials and policymakers to “honor their oaths of office and protect the First Amendment rights and privacy of the people whom they are entrusted to serve.”
The chilling of speech around reproductive freedom is the latest threat to free speech facing librarians at the state and local level, and the library community is also working to oppose a nationwide rise in book bans and educational gag orders threatening the freedom to read.
“ALA stands committed to the free, fair, and unrestricted exchange of ideas, and the right of library patrons to seek information free from observation or unwanted surveillance by the government or other third parties,” the ALA statement reads. “Access to information in a library is a First Amendment-protected activity, and ALA will defend that right and work with libraries, library workers, and library users to protect it, as well as support and defend library workers whose positions are jeopardized because of their defense of their users’ right to freely access information.”