Info Today Article “How Librarians Should Approach Discussing Sensitive Topics Such as Roe v. Wade”

Here’s the introduction

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Posted On May 31, 2022

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During the late 19th century, abortion became illegal in the U.S., and it was not until the 1960s, during the women’s rights movement, that court cases involving contraceptives laid the foundation for Roe v. Wade. In 1970, Hawaii became the first state to legalize abortion, and in that same year, New York also legalized it. By 1973, abortion was legally available in Alaska and Washington. On Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court, ruling on the Roe v. Wade case, struck down a Texas law banning abortion and effectively legalized the procedure nationwide. In a majority opinion written by Justice Harry Blackmun, the court, in a 7-2 decision, declared that a person’s right to an abortion is implied in the right to privacy protected by the 14th Amendment.

The Roe v. Wade decision is now in jeopardy based on leaked information suggesting that it could be overturned. In the ruling, the court acknowledged a person’s right to have an abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy. It stated that a person’s decision to have an abortion is up to the individual and that local governments cannot interfere. During the second trimester, a state can regulate abortions, but not outlaw them. When the fetus becomes viable, after the second trimester, a state can “regulate or outlaw abortions in the interest of the potential life except when necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother,” according to Cornell Law School (via The Charlotte Observer).

In the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the “trimester-based framework” was eliminated. This decision reiterated that people can have an abortion at any time before a fetus is viable and upheld Roe v. Wade. If Roe v. Wade is struck down, the legality of abortion would be decided at the state level. Since the Roe v. Wade decision, many states have imposed restrictions that weaken abortion rights. Americans remain divided over support for a person’s right to choose to have an abortion.

LIBRARIES’ ROLE IN CALMING FEARS

The potential overturning of Roe v. Wade is surprising news for many and has left some, especially women, a bit alarmed. In addition, it has caused people to be very concerned about other legal rights that could be at stake, including same-sex marriage and birth control access. The subject of abortion is not only a political matter, but also a medical, ethical, and religious one. People across the country have had to come to terms with their own beliefs about abortion and what Roe v. Wade means to people with uteruses and their future of making independent decisions.

According to ALA’s Library Bill of Rights, two of the primary duties of librarians are to “provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues” and “challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.” As ALA past-president Julius C. Jefferson Jr. wrote in 2021, despite hardships, attacks, and other outside forces, “Libraries and library workers will continue the work of responding to our patrons’ needs and restoring our communities. And library advocates will continue to tell stories that demonstrate the value of libraries.” Patrons’ needs right now may very well include learning more about abortion laws, and libraries can showcase their value by responding effectively.

My library, the Linn County Law Library in Oregon—along with many other libraries throughout the U.S.—works with constituents who have concerns about sensitive issues such as abortion, women’s rights, and homelessness. The methods used to eliminate concerns or confusion over sensitive issues may vary, but there are some best practices that can be used to deliver or discuss sensitive information with patrons.

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