Wow they are not even allowed to tell you where to find the information or what shelf the books are on. Talk about paranoia from the party of small government. This is the party that claims cancel culture and censorship. What a police state where you cannot even talk publicly about some subjects to your own family without risk of losing a lot of money. I am reminded of the old USSR and East Berlin. Hugs
Oklahoma City-area library employees were told Thursday 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.
It’s unclear if library employees would face lawsuits under Oklahoma’s House Bill 4327 or Senate Bill 1503, which allow private citizens to bring lawsuits against someone who performs an abortion or “aids or abets” someone in getting an abortion.
But the new Metropolitan Library System policy is an example of the confusion and fear surrounding Oklahoma’s multiple laws and how they may be interpreted.
A report by Vice cited an email and meeting notes that told employees they couldn’t discuss abortion or help with any abortion-related searches. This guidance was a placeholder until legal counsel had formed official guidelines, Metropolitan Library System Director Larry White said.
White emailed library employees Thursday morning and said they can provide factual information about abortion — what the procedure is, for example, or what Oklahoma laws say about abortion. But employees should not offer opinions, medical or legal advice, or “actively assist anyone in breaking the laws of Oklahoma,” according to White’s email.
White said the library is balancing protecting staff and complying with state law with its responsibility to provide information without censorship. White said employees raised concerns about their civil liability and said he doesn’t know if helping a guest find out where to receive an abortion would be considered aiding or abetting.
“That’s a question we do not know the answer to being that this is a new law,” White said. “There are no cases, there’s (nothing) … about how it’s going to be applied. … Being that we would be providing factual information, I don’t know that there would potentially be a problem, but … there is that possibility.”
The library is also “tightening” its technology security and record keeping to ensure anonymity to anyone using its computers.
“Legal advice suggests that if a guest uses our public technology in our locations to access information on this topic on their own, we shouldn’t bear civil liability for those actions,” the email from White said.
The Metropolitan Library System consists of 19 libraries throughout Oklahoma County, with branches in Oklahoma City and neighboring towns like Bethany, Edmond, Midwest City, Del City and Choctaw.
‘An example of the tremendous fear’
Oklahoma is operating under several overlapping, and in some cases contradictory, abortion bans.
The state’s multiple laws include exceptions that allow doctors to provide an abortion in the event of a medical emergency, but different laws have different definitions of a medical emergency. That can mean confusion for health care workers and devastating consequences for patients, said Rabia Muqaddam, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The laws also create confusion among people who work outside of health care, she said.
“What can they do in their communities? What can they tell people who are their family and friends? What can they tell people they come across in their professional life?” she said. “I think the library policy is an example of the tremendous fear and lack of certainty there is about sharing information related to abortion care.”
Some of that uncertainty comes from language in two of Oklahoma’s abortion laws, House Bill 4327 and Senate Bill 1503, which allow private citizens to bring lawsuits against anyone who performs an abortion or “aids and abets” someone in accessing an abortion.
The laws don’t define what counts as aiding or abetting.
“The problem really is, no one really knows what you have to aid and abet to come within the ambit of the law,” Muqaddam said.
New Oklahoma City library guidelines meant to reflect employees ‘neutrality’
Since Oklahoma’s law halting abortions went into effect, White said he’s not aware of library staff fielding any questions about abortions or abortion services.
But the possibility of that — including any persons or groups asking for information just to report library employees — prompted White to create guidelines employees could follow.
The library is a “neutral source of information,” White said, and the new guidelines regarding abortion information reflect that. But he’s not certain whether that would shield the library and its employees from lawsuits.
“We don’t know for sure that even if we just give answers to factual questions that we would be beyond reach of something,” White said.
Bill Young, the public information manager for the state Department of Libraries, said the department isn’t aware of other state library systems that have established guidelines on the issue. The state department may provide its own guidance in the future, but Young encouraged local library systems to consult their library boards and legal counsel for official guidance.
“(Oklahoma City’s) advice is a reflection of how librarians, as information professionals, approach reference questions every day,” Young said in an email. “We do not provide legal or medical advice.”
Vice also reported that an email was sent to some Metropolitan Library System employees that said those who disregarded the guidance and were sued would lose their job. White said he doesn’t know who sent that email and that he never said employees were in danger of being fired.
Legal challenges to Oklahoma abortion laws
Reproductive rights groups are working on legal challenges to Oklahoma’s multiple abortion bans. Their lawsuits challenging the most recent bans are still pending before the state Supreme Court.
“The purpose of these laws is to generate fear in addition to banning abortion, and to chill people in supporting even the people that they love and care about in accessing health care,” said Muqaddam, with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is among the groups challenging Oklahoma abortion laws. “It’s unfortunately, I think, going to be an increasing problem in Oklahoma if we’re not able to get these laws blocked.”
The groups are challenging both HB 4327 and SB 1503, as well as a century-old law revived by Oklahoma’s “trigger” ban.
The day Roe v. Wade was overturned, Oklahoma leaders quickly set into effect the trigger ban, which allowed the state to reinstate a 1910 law that made performing an abortion a felony, except to save the life of the mother.
In August, another state law is set to go into effect that would also classify performing an abortion as a felony, but with harsher penalties: up to 10 years in prison or fines of up to $100,000.
That one, Senate Bill 612, is also being challenged by reproductive rights organizations.