Mallory McPherson-Wehan remembers sitting on her friend’s living room floor, scouring the internet for abortion clinics. Her friend, a senior in high school at the time, had found out earlier that day that she was pregnant and made the decision to abort; the only question that remained was where she would go to do so.
“We had no option other than Google,” McPherson-Wehan, who is a volunteer at the DC Abortion Fund told Ms. So Google, they did.
The pair’s cursory search landed her friend an appointment at the last place where she would find accurate abortion information: a crisis pregnancy center (CPC), a fake clinic known for specializing in talking patients out of abortions. As Marcella Howell, founder and president of In Our Own Voice, wrote for Ms.:
Crisis pregnancy centers employ aggressive tactics to force women and pregnant people to carry their pregnancies to term. Although they are not medical facilities, some centers, without any medical personnel, require volunteers and staff to wear lab coats, to give the appearance of being a medical clinic. Fake clinics often deceive women by lying to them about medical facts, such as the likelihood of spontaneous miscarriage or about the stage of their pregnancy. Some delay women by scheduling follow-up appointments for ultrasounds weeks later. All this is done in an attempt to stall women so that it will be harder to access abortion services later in pregnancy.
During her visit, the CPC workers tried to pressure McPherson-Wehan’s friend into carrying the pregnancy to term—even telling her she was two weeks further into her pregnancy than she really was.
Although McPherson-Wehan said her friend resisted the coercion and eventually secured an abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic, the teenager was traumatized by her experience.
As of last week, abortion seekers can turn to a search engine other than Google—one that filters out centers that prey on vulnerable populations.
AbortionFinder.org allows users to search a database of over 750 abortion providers across the U.S. It is likely the most comprehensive search engine of its kind, said Gillian Sealy, CEO of the search engine’s parent, Power to Decide, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works to “ensure that all people—no matter who they are, where they live, or what their economic status might be—have the power to decide if, when, and under what circumstances to get pregnant and have a child.”
Users simply enter their zip code, age and date of their last period to return a list of nearby abortion providers. Each clinic profile includes a summary of services offered, the legal limit on pregnancy stages eligible for abortion and the clinic’s most up-to-date contact information.
Power to Decide, the campaign to prevent unplanned pregnancy, started work on AbortionFinder.org in April in response to June Medical Services v. Russo, a Supreme Court case that put abortion access in Louisiana in peril, Sealy said.
The team based the database’s design off a similar search engine they run on Bedsider.org, which allows users to search for nearby reproductive health clinics that offer services like Pap smears, birth control and STI testing. They also were inspired by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and National Abortion Federation, which both offer databases of their affiliate clinics, as well as the website I Need An Abortion, which has offered a similar search engine since 2013, said Jennifer Johnsen, the nonprofit’s vice president of digital programs and education.
The appeal of a dedicated abortion search engine is longstanding, especially in areas where opposition to reproductive education spawns misinformation, stigma and a high concentration of CPCs, said Kyla Horn, program manager at All Access EKY, a reproductive health initiative supported by Power to Decide.
Searching for abortion clinics in eastern Kentucky, where Horn lives, is a discouraging headache for already anxious patients—one that a simple, trustworthy search engine like AbortionFinder.org could alleviate.
The primary goal of AbortionFinder.com is to create a one-stop-shop for people considering abortion; accurate, continuously updated information about their medical options, providers they could visit and their legal rights.
In 2021, the team plans to release a Spanish version of the search engine, as well as an SMS feature that would allow people without internet to text their search criteria and receive a message with information about the providers nearest to them, Johnsen said.
“This is a critical tool for a critical moment that we’re in to make sure that people, no matter who they are, where they live, and what their economic circumstance is, have access to reproductive health services,” Sealy told Marie Claire. “Our commitment is to make sure that [the abortion finder tool] is constantly updated and that we are providing the information that is needed so that people can access abortion services. Abortion is part of health care and should be treated as such.”