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Google search results for abortion services promote anti-abortion centers

abortion rights demonstration
In response to the question ‘Where can I get an abortion near me?’, Google Maps frequently suggests ‘crisis pregnancy centers’. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Google searches for abortion services direct users to anti-abortion centers across the US, according to a new report that has sparked concerns from reproductive rights’ groups.

In response to the question “Where can I get an abortion near me?”, Google Maps frequently suggests “crisis pregnancy centers”, which are often non-medical facilities that provide counseling meant to discourage women from having abortions.

The controversial search results were reported by Gizmodo, which found that Google searches promoted the crisis pregnancy centers in nearly 20 regions in the US. The findings come at a time when Google and YouTube, its video platform, are continuing to face harsh scrutiny for spreading false information, including rightwing propaganda, conspiracy theories and offensive results.

Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are known for having misleading names and advertising meant to imply that they provide abortion services and have faced backlash for presenting questionable medical claims. Some CPCs get state funding and have falsely told women that abortions cause breast cancer and sterility.

“It’s definitely a problem that [Google] should be aware of and address,” said Molly Duane, staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The internet should be a place where you can get full information, not where women are deliberately deceived about their options.”

In 2014, Google removed ads for some crisis pregnancy centers appearing in search results following an investigation by the advocacy group Naral Pro-Choice America, which reported that 79% of centers with ads on the site falsely indicated that they provided medical services. They were removed after Google determined the ads were deceptive and violated policies.

The search results reported this week, however, suggest that users could still be duped when looking for medical services on Google Maps. Searches for abortion services in Jackson, Mississippi, for example, suggested three CPCs and one legitimate clinic that performs abortions. In Silicon Valley, where Google is headquartered, an “abortion providers near me” search also suggested clinics of a Catholic-funded anti-abortion group that locates its facilities near Planned Parenthood sites, which do provide abortions.

“We’re looking into the issues flagged,” the Google spokesperson Liz Davidoff said in an email. “We strive for business results that are relevant, accurate and help users find what they’re looking for.”

Kim Custer, an executive vice-president at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that people searching online for abortion providers and other health information should receive “accurate answers in real time”, adding: “Technology should be a way to expand people’s access to healthcare, not hinder it.”

Adrienne Kimmell, of Naral, said these centers deliberately manipulate Google with geo-targeting and search engine optimization.

“These fake women’s health centers and their websites try to trick women into believing they are something they are not.”

This article titled "Google search results for abortion services promote anti-abortion centers" was written by Sam Levin in San Francisco, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 13 February 2018 10.07pm

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