Congressional Democrats are urging Google to stop revealing a search for “where to get an abortion” from returning such search results and direct people to facilities on either side of the abortion debate, considering how deceptive abortion-related ads can lead people to stay away from clinics.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Friday urged Google (GOOGL) to stop anti-abortion clinics from appearing in the Google Search and Maps results for abortion services. The letter, sent to CEO Sundar Pichai and signed by more than 20 lawmakers, asks Google to label search results to clearly show whether a clinic in its results actually provides abortions. “Directing women towards fake clinics that traffic in misinformation and don’t provide comprehensive health services is dangerous to women’s health and undermines the integrity of Google’s search results,” the letter states.
Amid increased attention to digital risks people seeking abortion care can face, especially in states with laws limiting access to the procedure, a letter from the ACLU has called for better digital privacy protections for women seeking an abortion. The letter comes as the Supreme Court is expected to strike down Roe v. Wade — a nearly 50-year-old opinion that holds there is a federal, constitutional right to an abortion — in a move that appears poised to make the U.S. one of only a handful of countries without such a right. Online safety experts have also raised concerns about the possibility that a woman’s personal data could be used to enforce abortion criminalization laws in states with such laws. They have also raised concerns around misinformation about abortions and birth control and misleading ads from “crisis pregnancy centers” that target pregnant people but oppose abortions.
According to the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate, a recent study has shown that Google search results in states with “trigger laws,” or laws that would block abortion in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned, direct users to anti-abortion clinics. In those states, 11% of Google search results for “abortion clinic near me” and “abortion pill” listed clinics that do not provide abortions or that attempt to discourage abortions, according to the study. The research also showed that anti-abortion clinics accounted for 37% of Google Maps results for abortion services in those states, the lawmakers wrote.
In searches of Google Maps by CNN Business conducted Friday for “abortion clinics” near Nashville, Tennessee and Boise, Idaho—two states with trigger laws—some of the results included anti-abortion clinics on the first page. The Google Maps search results in Boise, Idaho show a facility that does “not perform” abortions as the second result and another “pregnancy care center” that says on its website it is not a medical facility as the fifth result. In a search for “abortion clinics” in Brooklyn, New York which has more lenient statewide laws, a clinic devoted to abortion alternatives appears as the fourth result.
Google is taking steps to makes sure patients are receiving accurate medical information when they search for medical services like abortion on Google Search and Google Maps when searching for terms such as “abortion clinic,” “abortion pill,” etc.