OKLAHOMA CITY (KOKH) — A new Vice report says Oklahoma is threatening librarians to not use the word "abortion." The news broke earlier this morning, and Fox 25 has been investigating ever since.
The report is partially true. Earlier this afternoon, the newsroom received a copy of the email from a Metropolitan Library System (MLS) employee.
The email says library staff should avoid saying the word "abortion." Staff were also told not to help folks look up any information about it, or even on their own devices. Workers were reminded that if they give any info on how to get an abortion, they could be liable and get the library system in trouble. They were also told they could face a $10,000 fine, plus jail time, and they would lose their job if they don't follow instructions.
An anonymous MLS worker shared their reaction with Fox 25.
"After reading this, I was understandably confused and honestly, angry," The anonymous worker said. "Reference work and freedom of information is an integral aspect of the services we at libraries provide. After some thought, I do understand where management is coming from in wanting to protect themselves and their employees, but no matter how the law is phrased in regards to "accessories," this policy makes the library a less trusted place in communities than it was before. At what point do we stop saying, "Sorry, I can't assist with this" and start following up with reporting that they were asking at all?"
Executive director of the MLS Larry White clarified the situation with a reporter. White says the memo was not sent from the system. It was an email sent between two employees, which has a screenshot of someone else's notes and a document attached.
"If they had waited about 48 hours, they would've gotten the actual legal advice that was coming," White said. "But, for some reason or another, that part didn't make it down to the message, or didn't make down to the staff member. So, this person kind of jumped the gun a little bit."
What was sent in the email, and what the library system said publicly about this today are different.
The MLS says a librarian can explain what an abortion is, and they can look into scientific research about it. Workers can also talk about what the state and national laws are. What they can't do is share their opinions about it, or help anyone break Oklahoma law.
White says even before Oklahoma's abortion laws changed, MLS librarians never shared medical or legal advice.
"If we were talking about blisters to cancer to what's legal in a city in terms of farm animals, whatever question comes in these would be the same parameters."
In the midst of some controversy, White wanted to remind the public they're in good hands.
"We are a safe place for people to come look up information. We just make information available. We don't tell people what to think about it, or what to do with it."
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