With fears over limited abortion access gripping the U.S., Google is sending people to fake clinics in ‘trigger law’ states that are designed to talk women out of having an abortion.
One in 10 Google searches on abortion in states that would immediately criminalize the act if Roe v Wade is overturned, lead to these so-called fake clinics, according to new research from the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a non-profit monitoring big tech firms.
The states are Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.
The report also discovered around 37% of Google Maps results across all these states presented anti-abortion clinics as if they were local abortion centers, and 28% of Google ads at the top of search results were for these fake clinics.
CCDH defines a fake clinic as “websites misleadingly appearing to offer independent advice on abortions but are actually run by organizations that oppose abortion, shame abortion care, or promote alternatives to abortion.”
The researchers discovered the data by using localized Google results with the chrome extension Location Guard, and then searching two queries: “abortion clinic near me” and “abortion pill.” Researchers then recorded the number of fake clinics that came up on the first page of results.
These clinics have benign or even comforting names like “crisis pregnancy centers” or “pregnancy resource centers” and they outnumber real abortion clinics in the U.S. by three to one.
“When people search for information or services relating to their sexual and reproductive health, Google is sending them to sites that users might expect contains robust, scientific, evidence-driven healthcare information—but they actually contain ideologically driven opinion and misinformation,” Imran Ahmed, chief executive office of the CCDH, said in a statement.
Google has policy guidelines, posted on its website, that require organizations to go through a certification process if they want to advertise to people wanting abortion services. The result of the certification process determines whether the clinic does or does not offer abortions, which will then show up in in-ad disclosures.
“Across our products, we work to make high-quality information easily accessible, particularly on critical health topics,” a Google spokesperson told The Guardian. “We’re always looking at ways to improve our results to help people find what they’re looking for, or understand if what they’re looking for may not be available.”
Google did not reply to Fortune’s request for comment.
Crisis Pregnancy Centers
Approximately 2,600 fake clinics are currently operating in the U.S., according to a study done by Alliance, a coalition of state advocates for women’s rights and gender equality.
The concept of these clinics began in Hawaii in 1967 when Christian carpenter Robert Pearson opened his home to oppose the expanding abortion around the U.S., the New York Times reported.
Within 6 years, more than 120 women had visited his center, and Pearson published a 93-page “how to start your own anti-abortion clinic” manual, which was widely circulated among anti-abortion activists across the U.S.
The manual advises activists to build fake clinics close to real abortion facilities and give them neutral-sounding names. It includes a script on what employees of the clinics can say to people seeking abortions and has a slide show including misinformation about the health risks.
Inside the fake clinics, employees wear lab coats and hospital scrubs and even perform ultrasounds, to appear like medical professionals, all the while providing wrong information on abortion.
A study published in the Journal Contraception in 2014 found that 80% of fake clinics included at least one false or misleading piece of medical information on their websites. This includes overstating the dangers of abortion and the risk of infertility post-abortion.
Many of these clinics in the U.S. are affiliated with one of four Christian organizations: Care Net, Heartbeat International, Birthright International, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. But they also get funding from taxpayers.
The Associated Press found that nearly $89 million was allocated to these clinics in the 2021 fiscal year, based on state budget figures—a five-fold increase from a decade ago, when the annual funding for these programs was only found in eight states which committed $17 million.
If the Supreme Court does overturn Roe v Wade, 26 states are likely to ban abortion, reducing the number of real abortion clinics to fewer than 600, according to the New York Times. They report that if that happens, more than half of American women of reproductive age would liver closer to a fake clinic than a real one.
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