- Pro-choice activists followed Google employees on their way to work on Tuesday to call attention to a little-known problem with search results.
- Activists say Google has become complicit in helping sham medical facilities known as “crisis pregnancy centres” mislead women seeking abortions.
- The faith-based organisations list themselves under “abortion” in search results and purchase ads on Google. But they do not offer abortions and aim to spread misinformation about the risks associated with abortion.
People on bicycles rode behind Google’s shuttle buses in San Francisco on Tuesday to bring attention to a little-known issue with the search giant’s ads.
The bicyclists cruised along the shuttle bus route with “mobile billboards” or trailers that said, “Searching for abortion care? Google will send you to fake, anti-abortion clinics.”
According to the progressive organisations behind the campaign, Credo and UltraViolet, Google searches for abortion services often direct users to sham medical facilities called “crisis pregnancy centres” (CPCs) that provide counseling meant to discourage women from having abortions.
A person who searches “Where can I get an abortion?” and clicks into Google Maps to find clinics near them will discover a mix of resultsincluding abortion clinics and CPCs.
Google could not be immediately reached for comment.
CPCs are designed to prevent women from seeking abortions. They advertise free reproductive health services, including pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, which brings pregnant women and girls into their offices. But CPCs don’t offer abortions or employ licensed medical professionals. They are typically affiliated with religious groups and funded by national pro-life organisations.
These centres often tell patients that having an abortion will increase their risk of breast cancer, infertility, and mental health problems, to deter them from terminating a pregnancy.
Karin Roland, chief campaigns officer for UltraViolet, said her organisation has been in talks with Google for four years trying to get ads for what she calls “fake clinics” removed from Google search results and Google Maps.
“Women are seeking medical information, and Google is sending them to clinics that not only don’t actually provide what they claim to – but are actively trying to trick and mislead women,” Roland said.
How crisis pregnancy centres mislead women
Many CPCs set up offices down the street from actual abortion clinics. They have names like “Choices” and “Women’s Health Centres” to create further confusion. Personnel might dress in scrubs and lab coats. Roland said a CPC that counsels a woman against having an abortion that she might require because of medical issues puts the patient at risk by delaying the procedure.
A recent investigation by Gizmodo found that CPCs will list themselves under “abortion” in online directories and search results. They sometimes purchase ads on Google.
In Portland, Maine, where Roland lives, a search for “abortion” in Google Maps provides four results. The first is a Planned Parenthood. The second, a facility called “Abba: A Women’s Resource Center,” says on its website it does not perform abortions or provide referrals for them.
A page on Abba’s website says, “Abortion may seem like the best solution for an unwanted pregnancy, but there is a lot to consider before visiting an abortion clinic. You deserve to know the facts.” It tells women they “may not need an abortion” because 10% to 15% of women who know they are pregnant have a miscarriage, which is true, according to Stanford Medicine.
UltraViolet and Credo hired a local advertising agency to trail Google shuttle buses, which carry Google employees living in San Francisco to the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, in the hope that workers would see the billboards and start a conversation about CPCs on campus.
“Our goal with the campaign is for Google to stop being complicit with these clinics, stop running fake abortion clinic ads,” Roland said.
The bikers meant to continue riding on Wednesday, but the second day of the campaign was cancelled in light of the active shooter incident at YouTube headquarters on Tuesday.
According to UltraViolet, more than 175,000 people have signed a petition telling Google to “take down ads that intentionally lie to women seeking information about abortion.”
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