Google search results for abortion services are leading users to ‘fake clinics’, new study finds

Posted on June 09, 2022 in Press releases.

1 in 10 Google search results for abortion services in ‘Trigger Law’ states lead users to anti-abortion ‘fake clinics’

  • New research by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) has found that Google is directing users who search for abortion services towards anti-abortion ‘fake clinics’, also known as “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) or “pregnancy resource centers”
  • Pro-choice organizations have warned that these “anti-abortion fake clinics” claim to offer impartial advice – but in reality aim to dissuade individuals from having abortions
  • Often affiliated with national anti-abortion organizations, CPCs have a record of disseminating misinformation on the health risks of abortion
  • 11% of results for “abortion clinic near me” and “abortion pill” in the 13 so-called Trigger Law states led to anti-abortion fake clinics, including 37% of Google Maps results
  • CCDH is a US non-profit (501c3) that researches the architecture of online hate and misinformation. The Center has offices in Washington, D.C. and London

Using the Google Chrome extension Location Guard, researchers were able to perform searches for “abortion clinic near me” and “abortion pill” in each of the 13 so-called “Trigger Law states”, which have passed laws effectively banning abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

They then analyzed the first page of results for each search — encompassing paid search results, organic results, and results in the Maps, News and Video functions which appeared on the main search page.

51 of the total 445 recorded results (11.46%) directed users to anti-abortion fake clinics, also known as “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) or “pregnancy resource centers”.

The findings were particularly acute on Google Maps, with 37% (26 of 70) of results presenting anti-choice providers as if they were local abortion clinics.

Nearly 28% of Google ads displayed at the top of search result pages were for anti-abortion fake clinics. One such ad from the Cline Centers appeared to offer free abortion consultations, but further inspection of their website revealed that the clinic neither performs nor provides referrals for abortion procedures. 

This was corroborated by a Google review alleging that the “fake clinic” does not “provide medical care” and “exaggerate[s]” the risks of abortion. 

While Google labels anti-choice ads with a disclaimer reading “Does not provide abortions”, some appeared as the first result for searches seeking abortion services. Reports have suggested that some users seeking abortions have overlooked these disclaimers and contacted fake clinics in the expectation that they can provide abortion services.

CPCs now outnumber real abortion clinics 3 to 1 with approximately 2,600 operating in the US, according to a study by the Alliance, a coalition of state advocates for women’s rights and gender equality.

They are typically nonprofit organizations established to counsel pregnant people against having an abortion, and are often affiliated with larger anti-abortion organizations.

They have been criticized for deceptive practices, and for disseminating false medical advice and misinformation about the potential risks of abortions.

Imran Ahmed, Chief Executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), said:

“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.

“We have a right to expect that safety by design is a key consideration for any tech platform. If Google refuses to guarantee users’ right to good information, it will be up to lawmakers to step in to ensure that people aren’t harmed by Google’s negligence and greed.”

Erin Matson, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Reproaction, said:

“Anti-abortion fake clinics are the conversion therapy wing of an anti-abortion movement that is hell-bent on sending people to jail for abortion, miscarriage, and pregnancy. 

“Misleading online advertising targeting abortion seekers is not a new concern, although it becomes more urgent as constitutional protections for abortion disappear.

“Google has known for a long time that it needs to get serious about anti-abortion disinformation and hate. Now is the time to stop prioritizing big bucks from the haters over public health and basic human rights.”