Abortion opponents are now targeting states where abortion remains legal by pumping resources into anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers” that work to entrap people searching for reproductive healthcare.
This article originally appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
Last June, the Supreme Court eliminated our constitutional right to choose for ourselves whether or not to continue a pregnancy, allowing states to force the dangerous and burdensome conditions of pregnancy, labor and delivery on unwilling women, trans men and nonbinary people.
Over the last year, 25 states have restricted abortion access. Additionally, 14 states have fully banned abortion, another six states have banned abortion after six, 12 or 15 weeks of pregnancy, and eight states have passed bans currently blocked by courts.
On the other side, abortion is still legal in 23 states and Washington, D.C. Most of these jurisdictions have passed new laws strengthening abortion rights.
Abortion opponents are now targeting states where the procedure remains legal, such as Massachusetts, by pumping resources into a spider web of anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) that work to entrap people searching for reproductive healthcare. Most CPCs are evangelical religious organizations; many masquerade as medical clinics. They employ scare tactics, using false information about abortion and contraception, and attempt to shame people who engage in non-procreative sex or choose to end an unwanted pregnancy.
They do this with help from Google. A new report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate reveals that Google made $10.2 million over the last two years running deceptive advertisements for these fake clinics. Using search terms like “abortion clinic near me,” these Google ads intercept people seeking abortion healthcare and direct them to anti-abortion CPCs, including here in western Massachusetts. In some cases, Google even subsidized these ads by anti-abortion activists.
“Google has sold out the trust of hundreds of thousands of Americans seeking reproductive healthcare and services to a multi-million-dollar fake clinic industry that works around the clock to delay and prevent care using deceptive practices,” said Imran Ahmed, who leads the Center for Countering Digital Hate.
There are at least 2,600 CPCs operating across the country. They outnumber abortion clinics by three to one.
“Google Search results pages are as tightly curated as TV commercial breaks or magazines’ ads pages,” said Ahmed. “Google is selling the digital equivalent of Super Bowl slots to deceptive anti-choice bidders, allowing them to distort reality and limit the choices available to those searching for information and options.”
Google … is more than willing to allow advertisers to lie, deceive, limit users’ rights to good information and to healthcare, as long as they get paid in the process.Imran Ahmed
The Center for Countering Digital Hate report found the anti-abortion movement spent four times as much on Google Search ads for CPCs than it did on ads for overt campaigns to restrict abortion. In states where abortion is legal, they spent twice as much as in states with bans. The research found:
- 71 percent of fake clinic websites advertised on Google Search use deceptive techniques to target people seeking reproductive care.
- 16 percent promoted misleading claims about abortion—for example, exaggerating the risks to mental health, overstating the risk of complications to future pregnancies such as fertility loss, or falsely claiming that abortion can increase the risk of breast cancer.
- 38 percent of CPCs advertising on Google fail to carry disclaimers on their homepage clearly stating that they do not provide abortions.
- 40 percent promote so-called “abortion pill reversal”—an unproven and potentially unsafe method claiming to reverse a medication abortion.
In a September 2021 report, “Endangering Women for Profit,” the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that Facebook and Google sold ad space promoting the anti-abortion movement’s “abortion pill reversal” claims. In response, Google pledged to ban these ads, but the new report shows that since then Google has taken in a whopping $2.6 million in search ad revenue from fake clinic websites that promote the unproven procedure.
Ads placed on Google Search appear at the top of the first results page, deliberately resembling organic search results. Research shows users have a high degree of trust in search engine results – particularly top-ranked results. Studies also show that up to 68% of users are unable to distinguish ads from organic search results.
“Google built its brand on providing accurate search results, boasting that their motto was ‘Don’t be evil,’” said Ahmed. “This report shows that they are more than willing to allow advertisers to lie, deceive, limit users’ rights to good information and to healthcare, as long as they get paid in the process.”
Abortion Truth Campaign
To combat deceitful and coercive CPC practices in Massachusetts, reproductive rights activists have launched the Abortion Truth Campaign to educate the public about these anti-abortion groups and what we can do to stop their predatory practices. This website has the latest research, news and resources on CPCs, as well as local ordinances, state laws and other actions advocates are taking to end anti-abortion disinformation.
We are all entitled to our opinions about abortion and contraception, but no one has the right to deceive, coerce and harass people seeking reproductive healthcare.
How to Find an Abortion, Medical or Legal Support
Those seeking an abortion:
- AbortionFinder: Available in English and Spanish, this site provides a list of trusted and verified abortion care and support. No search or user data is saved.
- INeedAnA.com: Where and how to get an abortion sorted by distance, cost, legal limits, and appointment availability; no search or user data is saved.
- Aid Access: All about receiving medication abortion by mail.
- Practical Support Organizations (PSOs) Directory: This directory can identify a PSO nearby for travel and logistical support for those traveling for abortion care.
- Abortion Access Dashboard: Illustrates travel times and distances to access abortion care as well as the demand for services across the country
- ReproClinics: lists pro-choice reproductive health clinics and doctors that can be trusted to give supportive and non-judgmental reproductive healthcare.
In case of medical or legal complications:
- M+A Hotline: A secure phone and text hotline for people in need of support for self-managed miscarriage or abortion.
- Repro Legal Helpline: a free, confidential source for legal advice and information on self-managed abortion, run by If/When/How. Visit ReproLegalHelpline.org or call 844-868-2812.
- If/When/How Repro Legal Defense Fund: a legal fund that covers bail and funds strong defenses for people who are investigated, arrested, or prosecuted for self-managed abortion.
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