June 13, 2018

Abortion, Fake Clinics

Imagine you just found out you’re pregnant and you may want an abortion. You need accurate, timely, trustworthy information about your options. Where would you turn? Most people would head straight to Google on their computer or smartphone, and search something like, “pregnancy help” or “abortion near me.”

Beware: The results you get may not point you in the direction of comprehensive reproductive health care or expert clinicians (like you get here at Maine Family Planning). Rather, you may find yourself clicking on the website for an anti-abortion fake clinic that’s masquerading as a medical facility.

Fake clinics, also known by the gross (and misleading — are we sensing a trend here?) moniker “crisis pregnancy centers,” are basically set up by anti-abortion extremists to pressure pregnant people into NOT having abortions. They use a variety of tactics to do this, 10 of which are outlined here by the national campaign End the Lies.

One of the ways these fake health centers get women in the door is by employing what End the Lies describes as “aggressive advertising tricks including geo-targeting and search optimization.” These tricks make it so that when someone types in “abortion near me,” fake clinics are featured at the top of the search results.

Try it.

If you’re reading this in Maine, your results will very likely include one or more of the dozen or so fake clinics in our state — places whose slick and sneaky websites suggest they offer comprehensive services which they do not; places that perpetuate medically disproven myths about abortion care; places where women feel pressured and judged for personal healthcare decisions. We won’t link to these places — because, lies — but we know fake clinics in Maine are using the very tactics that at best waste people’s time and at worst can lead to harmful medical outcomes.

Taking action

Last week, the national organization UltraViolet flew a plane banner over Google’s annual shareholder meeting demanding that the tech giant remove these results in Google Search and Google Maps, as well as deceptive advertisements that show up when individuals search for abortion care. The banner read: SEARCHING FOR ABORTION CARE? GOOGLE LIES

“Decisions regarding a woman’s body are to be made between her and her doctor,” UltraViolet executive director Shaunna Thomas said at the time. “All women should rest assured—particularly throughout challenging times, and when in need of urgent medical care—that they are being provided with quality care and accurate medical information. That’s why it is imperative that Google work to put an end to the fraudulent tactics of crisis pregnancy centers and their entrapment of women, and scrub its search engine of their advertisements. Abortion care is health care, and Google must ensure its abortion ads and results are accurate.”

UltraViolet also spearheaded a letter from 20 organizations addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai that outlined the company’s efforts to “crack down on fraud” in other areas, such as predatory lending. “Just as Google ensures that various
targeted communities do not fall victim to predatory businesses, Google should take care not to direct individuals needing medical care to sham providers,” the letter read.

We at Maine Family Planning support this effort. Folks seeking health care or counseling during pregnancy deserve and require accurate, unbiased, and comprehensive information.

That’s why we’re also keeping a close eye on NIFLA v. Becerra, the Supreme Court case we wrote about a few months ago. This case involves California’s FACT Act, which requires fake clinics to post accurate information at their facilities. The court will hand down that decision any day now. Stay tuned.