Democratic members of Congress have espoused Google in their efforts to prevent return results for abortion ambulotories from surfacing in search engines and ads related to abortion that appear to be legit that direct individuals to sites that oppose the process. They argue that after such searches, medical practitioners may accidentally mislead the population into thinking dubious abortion methods are safe, putting women’s health in danger.
Lawmakers Mark Warner and Elissa Slotkin said in a letter sent Friday to Google CEO Sundar Pichai that if the company does not limit anti-abortion clinics from appearing in the Google Search and Maps results for abortion services, it should 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. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the midst of increased public attention on digital risks that people seeking abortion care can face, especially in states where laws limit access to abortion, the letter is a reminder of the importance of protecting the privacy and security of patients’ sensitive information. If Roe v. Wade—the nearly 50-year-old opinion that holds there is a federal, constitutional right to an abortion—is overturned by the Supreme Court, online safety experts worry about how women’s personal data could be used to enforce criminalization laws in states with such laws. They also worry about misinformation about abortions and birth control and misleading ads from “crisis pregnancy centers” which target pregnant people but oppose abortions.
According to research from the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate, listed in a letter sent Friday by several U.S. lawmakers, some Google searches in states with so-called “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 letter. The research also showed that anti-abortion clinics accounted for 37% of Google Maps results for abortion services in those states, lawmakers wrote.
In Google searches conducted by CNN Business on Friday for “abortion clinics” near Nashville, Tennessee, and Boise, Idaho—two states that recently passed trigger laws—some of the results included anti-abortion clinics on the first page. In a Google Maps search for “abortion clinics” in Brooklyn, New York—a city with more lenient statewide laws—a clinic devoted to abortion alternatives appeared as the fourth result.
How will Google ensure that their users are receiving correct health information when they search for treatments like abortion on Google Search or Google Maps when they search for abortion clinic, abortion pill, or similar terms? The lawmakers wrote in their letter.