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Google results for abortion clinics are misleading and politically fraught

Google Maps continues to show results for anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) when users search for a nearby abortion clinic. A new analysis from Bloomberg shows that CPCs make up about a fourth of the top 10 search results on average in all 50 states and Washington, DC.

Unlike legitimate abortion clinics, CPCs don’t actually provide abortions. They instead attempt to dissuade people from going through with the procedure and often use misinformation to make their case. For example, CPCs may falsely claim that receiving an abortion will put someone at a higher risk for breast cancer or may say it makes it harder to get pregnant in the future.

A separate report from The Guardian cites data from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), which indicates that one in 10 Google searches for abortion clinics showed results for CPCs in the 13 states where abortion access has become limited after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Bloomberg found similar results, with CPCs accounting for five or more of Google’s top 10 search results in these 13 states. Meanwhile, out of the 149 Google Maps results analyzed by Bloomberg containing “at least one word referring to medical healthcare in its Google Maps description,” one-third pointed users to CPCs.

Google has faced significant political pressure from both sides over what information the Search and Maps platforms show to abortion seekers. In June, a group of US lawmakers wrote a letter to Google urging the company to take action on search results that lead abortion seekers to CPCs. The letter also includes research from the CCDH, which found that 37 percent of abortion-related searches on Google Maps led to non-legitimate clinics. A group of Republican state attorneys general responded by warning Google that the search engine shouldn’t restrict results from CPCs.

Earlier this month, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) wrote a letter that asks Google to give users the ability to write and read reviews for abortion clinics and CPCs. Google currently disables reviews for both legitimate and anti-abortion clinics, which Maloney says could “make it difficult for people seeking abortion care to utilize reviews to obtain accurate, helpful information on the types of services they can access at these centers.”

It’s possible that CPCs are ranking in Google search results because of the keywords they use. Penny Young Nance, the CEO and president of the conservative legislative action committee Concerned Women for America, explains to Bloomberg that CPCs often use keywords related to pregnancy because “at the end of the day, they are trying to reach an audience.”

In 2019, Google started requiring organizations running ads about abortion to certify that they actually provide the procedure. Ads for legitimate medical clinics include a “provides abortions” disclaimer, while ads for non-medical locations have a “does not provide abortions” label. But, as Bloomberg notes, it’s unclear if Google can use this information to filter out Maps results for anti-abortion centers.

A Google spokesperson told Bloomberg that the company has “extra layers of verification in place” to help ensure that Maps results labeled as “abortion clinics” are legitimate medical centers. Google didn’t immediately respond to The Verge’s request for comment.

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