Facebook has raked in as much as $140,667 from anti-abortion activists pushing false claims about so-called “abortion reversal,” an ineffective and life-threatening procedure with no medical basis.
According to a new report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, Live Action was the primary group behind the six-figure ad campaign, and it would seem that the anti-abortion group got its money’s worth: Facebook users saw ads promoting the fake practice up to 18.4 million times in the last year-and-a-half. Seventy-five percent of the ads were seen by children between the ages of 13 and 17. One of the most recent ads, the Daily Beast reports, specifically targeted women in Texas on the day that S.B. 8 went into effect.
The ads include alleged testimony from people who say they had “successful” abortion reversals with “with the help of a trained doctor.”
Anti-abortion activists have long insisted that early abortions using pills could be “reversed” halfway through—a false claim that complemented their messaging about people regretting abortions. Abortion opponents maintain that if a patient changes their mind after taking the mifepristone tablet—the first of two drugs used in medication abortions—they can decide not to take the misoprostol afterwards and instead take doses of progesterone to continue the pregnancy.
Though medical professionals vehemently disputed the safety and effectiveness of this method, researchers put it to the test in 2019, in a randomized controlled study. The study, however, was swiftly abandoned because of dire outcomes for its participants: Three needed to be taken to the ER in an ambulance after experiencing severe vaginal hemorrhaging, and one woman needed a blood transfusion.
Those findings have not stopped several states from requiring by law that abortion providers inform patients that they can request an “abortion reversal” if they have second thoughts—and neither did these findings, apparently, convince Facebook not to promote this practice on their platform.
In its report, the Center for Countering Digital Hate makes nine demands of Facebook and other tech giants—like Google—that continue to amplify these dangerous messages. Among them are suggestions that these platforms crack down on misleading health claims, ban repeat offenders from advertising, and donate the ad money they have already received to credible reproductive health organizations.
“Profiting from those who put people at harm is unacceptable,” Imran Ahmed, the CEO of the group, wrote in the report. “Facebook and Google’s executives talk a lot about human rights, yet as we can see, these executives turn a blind eye to women’s and girls’ safety when there is a buck to be made.”