Google Agrees to Remove Deceptive Crisis Pregnancy Center Ads

What Women Really Think
April 29 2014 1:59 PM

Google Agrees to Remove Deceptive Crisis Pregnancy Center Ads

153788943-the-google-search-page-appears-on-a-computer-screen-in
Search results for “where to get an abortion” will soon stop directing women to centers that want to shame them out of getting an abortion.

Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

On Monday, Google started to take down ads from crisis pregnancy centers that engage in overt deception of women seeking out abortion information online. Crisis pregnancy centers are anti-abortion centers that often masquerade as women's health clinics; they exist to disseminate anti-choice propaganda to dissuade women from abortion and contraception. According to the Washington Post, Google's decision was made after NARAL Pro-Choice America created a report for Google that showed that a full 79 percent of the paid ads for crisis pregnancy centers that pop up on Google deceitfully "indicated that they provided medical services such as abortions" when they simply did not. 

Crisis pregnancy centers know that women who want abortions are likely to go to Google first to figure out next steps, and the hope is that these ads will trick women into thinking that they can get abortions at the advertised locations. Google's ad policy states that, "All advertising claims must be factually supportable," so this little bit of subterfuge is simply not allowed. Obviously, any glance at the claims made in sidebar advertising for beauty products or health supplements shows that a lot of companies slip through with deceptive claims, but considering the seriousness of this issue, insisting on truth in advertising seems extra important. 

Advertisement

While it's usually pretty clear once you start an appointment at a crisis pregnancy center that they are not going to give you your abortion, it's a major problem using lies to get women in the door in the first place. As the Crisis Project has shown with its undercover videos of activists posing as women seeking information about reproductive health care, these centers employ the same tactics used by multilevel marketers and time-share salesmen: Get people in with promises of easy money or free vacations, and then make it nearly impossible for them to escape politely without agreeing to buy what you're selling. Except, in this case, the promise that they attempt to extract is for the woman to have the baby.

No one disputes the right of crisis pregnancy centers to try to persuade women to avoid abortion or contraception. The issue here is whether they should be transparent in their goals. A number of cities, including New York City, have passed laws requiring crisis pregnancy centers to have signs indicating whether they have medical staff at all and if they provide referrals for abortion, contraception, or prenatal services. These disclosure laws haven't fared well in courts. A federal appeals court has found that New York City can at least require crisis pregnancy centers to disclose whether a licensed medical provider works on site, but by and large, the First Amendment right to lie has been protected, since these centers don't charge for their services and fall outside of the realm of being subject to consumer protection laws. 

But just because the law can't do much about this deceitful behavior doesn't mean that private corporations such as Google are hamstrung. Google's decision is a small step toward beating back the deceitful tactics of crisis pregnancy centers, but hopefully it will save a lot of women the pain and humiliation of thinking they are going to get an abortion when they get lies and a guilt trip instead.

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

Even if You Don’t Like Batman, You Might Like Gotham

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Nicolas Sarkozy, Thrice Married, Says Gay Marriage Humiliates the Family

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 5:33 PM The Politics of Stigma Why are lighter-skinned Latinos and Asians more likely to vote Republican?
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 22 2014 4:06 PM No, Women’s Soccer Does Not Have a Domestic Violence Problem Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 5:45 PM The University of California Corrects “Injustice” by Making Its Rich Chancellors Even Richer
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 12:14 PM Family Court Rules That You Can Serve Someone With Legal Papers Over Facebook
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.