Facebook Sparks Controversy By Removing Home Abortion Instructions

An activist for the Dutch women's rights organization Women on Waves posted instructions for a home abortion as her profile picture on Facebook. The social networking site then took the picture down — is this censorship, or an understandable reaction to potentially dangerous advice?

Women on Waves is a nonprofit that sails to countries where abortion is illegal, performing early abortions and providing sex ed onboard ship. Rebecca Gomperts, the organization's director, had posted as her Facebook profile pic a list of instructions for home abortion with the drug misoprostol, which is sometimes sold under the brand name Cytotec (see the instructions here). But a Women on Waves press release dated Dec. 30 says,

Today, Facebook removed the profile picture of Rebecca Gomperts, which was text with information about how women can do abortions safely by themselves. [...] By removing the profile picture, Facebook is in gross violation of Article 19, the right to freedom of information, of the Universal declaration of Human rights. Facebook has a social responsibility to guarantee human rights
Dr. Gomperts reposted the screenshot of the Facebook censorship message with the picture. She calls upon all Facebook users that support abortion rights to repost the message on their page.

Yesterday, Facebook responded with an apology, which Gomperts also posted:

The photo that was removed from your profile is not in violation of our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, and appears to have been removed in error. We do apologize for the removal of this content and the subsequent warning that you received.

Our policies are enforced by a team of reviewers in several offices across the globe. This team looks at hundreds of thousands of reports every week, and as you might expect, occasionally, we make a mistake and remove a piece of content we shouldn't have. When this happens, we work quickly to address it by apologizing to the people affected and making any necessary changes to our systems and processes. I can assure you that this matter is being looked at carefully by our review team at this time. There should be no issue should you choose to re-post the photo in question. We've also removed this warning from your account, so that it does not affect your profile in the future.

Gomperts writes that she believes "it is thanks to all the protest repost and the inquiry of journalists, that facebook wrote this apology." Before the apology, though, the profile removal inspired an interesting controversy on Reddit. Gerwalking wrote,

I think the reason why is because someone is giving medical advice that could possibly have dangerous consequences. I see she's a doctor (a doctor of what though?) but that doesn't mean this is approved by any medical boards. I understand fully why a site wouldn't want someone going around telling people to take pills to cause them to miscarry. What if some random person claiming to be a pro-choice doctor did the same, and it led to women poisoning themselves? Don't take medical advice you found on the internet without checking with a doctor in the flesh.

Sukitrebek countered,

This is a well thought out point, but the drug she is recommending, misoprostol, is used in countries where abortion is legal to induce abortions, usually in combination with mifepristone. [...] It is all well and good to say "check with a doctor," but when you live in a country where abortion is illegal and seeing a doctor is not an option, it may be the woman's only choice to find a way to do the abortion herself.

It's true that in an ideal world, all women would get the professional care they need when getting abortions or any other medical procedure. But as sukitrebek points out, we don't live in that world. Gomperts's advice is for women who can't access legal abortion. There are risks involved (and Gomperts mentions them, noting that women need to see a doctor if they experience fever, severe pain, or excessive bleeding), but carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term has risks too. Gomperts's tips will give some women more choices — and while Facebook's apology is welcome, dontbeajerk is correct: "we need to be pissed that women are forced into situations like this and be complaining to lawmakers." Because while Gomperts's advice is valuable given today's flawed climate for women's rights, nobody should have to turn to Facebook for reproductive health.

Facebook Removed The Profile Picture Of An Abortion's Rights Activist. Please Spread The Word. [Reddit]
Does Facebook Have An Anti-Choice Agenda? Censorship Of Information On Misoprostol Raises Questions (UPDATED) [RH Reality Check]
Rebecca Gomperts [Facebook Wall]