Crisis Pregnancy Centers vs. Google: Should Search Engines Fight Misinformation?
If someone is pregnant but doesn't want to be, they might take to the internet to look for abortion providers. It may also be jarring to discover that at least 11% of Google's abortion-related searches lead to anti-abortion nonprofits.
In the United States, there are nearly 3,000 crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) that do not provide abortions. There are significantly fewer clinics that provide abortions, with less than 800 nationally.
U.S. lawmakers who are in favor of abortion rights are urging Google to take a stand against crisis pregnancy centers. By encouraging the tech giant to limit or label search results that could mislead abortion seekers, these lawmakers hope to dissuade pregnant people from accidentally attending these centers.
On the contrary, Republican attorneys general from across the country hope to deter Google from limiting these search results.
But what even is a crisis pregnancy center? Why are anti-abortion advocates so against the bias disclosure of these nonprofits? And why is this all so important?
What Is a Crisis Pregnancy Center?
Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), also known as pregnancy resource centers and derisively referred to as "fake clinics," are nonprofit organizations that aim to discourage pregnant people from receiving abortions. Most CPCs are associated with national religious organizations, whose beliefs and tenets inform their work.
The vast majority of these "clinics" do not employ medical professionals and are not HIPPA compliant. Yet CPCs often pose and advertise as abortion clinics to get patients through the door who they can speak to and counsel against getting an abortion.
Even though these organizations are not medical facilities, some offer limited medical services, such as free ultrasounds, pregnancy tests, and sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment.
Some of these centers even offer "abortion pill reversal" — an untested, unregulated procedure that The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states is "not based on science and do not meet clinical standards."
Many abortion rights advocates argue that these organizations exist solely to mislead and confuse abortion seekers, citing that CPCs often open near actual abortion clinics.
A Push For Disclosure
In a letter written by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Michigan, the politicians ask Alphabet Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai how Google plans to assure that search results won't mislead their users.
The letter urges Google to consider making changes to its search engine that would either:
- Provide a disclaimer stating that these CPCs do not provide abortions
- Suppress results for CPCs when someone is searching for abortion resources
The letter cites a Center for Countering Digital Hate study that found that 28% of advertisements displayed above Google searches regarding abortion are from CPCs. Additionally, 37% of Google Maps search results for abortion clinics resulted in anti-abortion facilities.
Anti-Abortion Advocates Take Action
Following the efforts of Warner and Slotkin, two Republican attorneys generals took action against their pleas.
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron sent a letter of their own, signed by 15 additional GOP AGs, to Alphabet and Google. The letter defends the work of crisis pregnancy centers, citing that these nonprofits provide some of the health services mentioned above.
The letter then goes on to set the expectation that "at least some" of the individuals searching for abortion resources expect to find information from these non-medical centers.
Google hasn't taken any action regarding CPCs, but the AGs' letter threatens to investigate whether Google violated any antitrust or religious discrimination laws if CPCs are labeled or suppressed by Google.
The Future of Google and Crisis Pregnancy Centers
There has been little resolution to this brewing conflict. As of this writing, Google has yet to respond. It's also unknown whether the GOP AGs plan to fulfill their promise of legal action. Furthermore, it's completely unclear whether the investigations would even garner results!
Regardless, you can find crisis pregnancy centers through various maps that show their names, locations, and services they provide. You can check online reviews to verify whether the clinic in question is a crisis pregnancy center or a genuine abortion clinic. Abortion-rights activists and those who felt misled into going to crisis pregnancy centers are alerting the public through negative online reviews.
Finally, checking the website of a facility can provide answers as to whether the location provides the services you may be looking for. Abortion clinics will note that they provide abortion care or pregnancy termination on their websites.
- Tough New Abortion Laws Raise Free Speech Questions (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
- Looking at Future Supreme Court Abortion Fights (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court)
- The Practical Impact of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health (FindLaw's Federal Courts)
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