As the Supreme Court prepares to rule on the future of abortion rights, anti-abortion Congress members are doing everything they can to obstruct abortion access — as of this week, by pressuring Google to push medical disinformation on abortion pills.
Two dozen Republican members of Congress — including the notably very sane Reps. Madison Cawthorn and Lauren Boebert, and Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — have reportedly hand-delivered a letter addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, telling Pichai to reverse the search engine’s recent ban on advertisements with “life-saving information on abortion pill reversal.”
“Google’s decision to censor Live Action’s abortion pill reversal ads is denying life-saving information to thousands of women who want to save their unborn children’s lives from a tragic decision they regret,” the letter states. It adds that the search engine shouldn’t allow ads for abortion pills, because they don’t meet “Google’s harmful health claims policies,” even though medication abortion has been approved by the FDA since 2000.
“Abortion pill reversal,” of course, is a scientifically unsupported and possibly dangerous treatment to “reverse” a medication abortion that’s underway. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has called it “unproven and unethical,” noting that the one study of the treatment wasn’t supervised by an institutional review board and possibly put its human research subjects at risk.
Much of the folklore around so-called abortion pill reversal revolves around the myth that people will necessarily regret their abortions and want to “reverse” them and that abortion is unsafe, despite the fact that it’s actually substantially safer than childbirth. In reality, it’s disinformation and restrictions on abortion that pose the real threat to pregnant people’s health and safety.
Amid a deluge of near-total abortion bans and the Supreme Court poised to totally gut Roe v. Wade, abortion clinics across the country face an uphill battle to continue to provide care. Now more than ever, people need accurate information about how to self-manage their abortions with medication abortion — an increasingly common method that about one third of people who have abortions use to end their pregnancies. No one seeking accurate information about abortion pills should have to navigate or possibly be misled by ads containing dangerous medical disinformation.
Yet, because this is clearly a Very Normal country, two dozen members of Congress are using their powers not to increase access to abortion pills and information about them, but to pressure a private company to publish highly misleading anti-abortion ads. Their letter relies on conservatives’ tired false censorship claims, deployed whenever their blatant lies are flagged or taken down from social media or the internet — typically for putting people’s safety at risk.
In reality, anti-abortion politicians have long benefited from a pattern of preferential treatment from big tech. Google offered $150,000 in free ads to the anti-abortion group Obria, and Facebook and its subsidiaries like Instagram have taken down posts and pages about medication abortion, while allowing disinformation about abortion pill reversal to go unchecked. Browser histories and online messages are even increasingly being used to surveil and criminalize people who experience pregnancy loss or self-manage their abortions.
It’s nothing short of ironic that government officials who claim to represent the party of “free speech” are demanding that a private company publish bogus lies that support their anti-abortion agenda. But to conservative and particularly anti-abortion politicians, free speech means only one thing: their ability to spread as many blatant lies as they want, without fact-checking or consequence.