US lawmakers demand action from Google over ‘fake abortion clinics’

More than twenty US lawmakers have called on Google to address what they say is online misinformation about abortion in its search engines.

Democrat representatives and senators have accused the tech giant of failing to remove “fake abortion clinic” websites from user’s search results. 

The so-called “crisis pregnancy centres” encourage women not to have abortions, instead of providing medical services and information.

The letter, which was published last Friday, was signed by 21 lawmakers, including Senator Mark Warner, Bernie Sanders, and Elisabeth Warren.

“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.

“We urge you to take action to rectify these issues and help ensure women seeking health care services are directed to the basic information they request.”

The letter comes ahead of a crucial ruling in the US Supreme Court which could overturn a landmark law that legalises abortion.

If the 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling is overturned, 13 US states could ban abortions, and a recent report — cited by the Democrats — found that search results for fake abortion clinics are especially prevalent in these “trigger” states.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found that 11% of Google search results in the 13 states for “abortion clinic near me” and “abortion pill” listed clinics that oppose abortion.

These states are Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.

The CCDH report also found that anti-abortion clinics made up 37% of Google Maps results for abortion services in those states.

Meanwhile, 28% of Google Ads featured so-called “crisis pregnancy centres” with small disclaimers, according to the research.

‘Google is failing at its most fundamental job’

“When someone is looking for information about abortions, they may be scared, vulnerable, and desperate for information about abortion services,” CCDH chief executive Imran Ahmed told Euronews. 

“But they’re being sent to wrong centres where they will be served ideological misinformation instead of quality medical services. 

“Google is there to provide information when you have a query so they’re failing at their most fundamental job,” he added. 

Google had previously pledged in 2014 to take down ads on its platform for anti-abortion clinics. 

“We are 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,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement to Reuters.

Ahmed hoped the latest report would prompt Google to take further action.

“Google has been promising to take action the past 8 years but has failed to do so,” he told Euronews.

“It just goes to show that it is vital to have legislation like the Digital Services Act in the EU … so that these companies can be held liable when they’re fail to act on problems [with] their platforms.”

The Digital Service Act is a draft piece of EU legislation, which seeks to create a new legal for tackling challenges like the sale of fake products, spreading of hate speech, cyber threats, limiting of competition and market dominance.

Google has been approached for further comment.

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