Top Republicans have sent a now-public letter to Google urging the company to show anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers in search results for “abortion,” or else. For those just now joining us, crisis pregnancy centers are faith-based organizations that prey on people struggling with unwanted pregnancies. They advertise heavily on Google and social media and aggressively try to dissuade people from having abortions by pushing dangerous disinformation.
In the letter dated July 21 but made public on Tuesday, 17 Republican state attorneys general—including Texas AG Ken Paxton—wrote to the company:
“We trust that you will treat this letter with the seriousness these issues require, and hope you will decide that Google’s search results must not be subject to left-wing political pressure, which would actively harm women seeking essential assistance.”
The threat came shortly after:
“If you do not, we must avail ourselves of all lawful and appropriate means of protecting the rights of our constituents, of upholding viewpoint diversity, free expression, and the freedom of religion for all Americans.”
This letter comes about a month after Democrats in Congress wrote to Google urging the company to stop showing anti-abortion centers in search results for abortion, following a study that showed nearly 40 percent of Google Maps search results for “abortion” in abortion-hostile states directed people to crisis pregnancy centers. This same study by the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that 28 percent of Google ads that people see at the top of their search results for abortion are CPCs, and about 11 percent of Google search results for abortion will also lead you straight to a CPC.
Another passage of the letter blasts Democrats in Congress for “openly [calling]” for the “government to shut down private charitable organizations that have shown compassion and love to so many vulnerable women over the years.” (They conveniently left out how these organizations actually target vulnerable women.) Paxton, Kentucky AG Daniel Cameron, Louisiana AG Jeff Landry, Missouri AG Eric Schmitt, and other Republican attorneys general said these “unconscionable” efforts are “the opposite of how a pluralistic society that values diversity of viewpoints must operate if it is to survive.”
These noted fans of “pluralistic society” and “diversity of viewpoints,” mind you, are openly calling for abortion providers and patients to be jailed—Landry has threatened as much in a tweet from last week. And Paxton, who’s currently under FBI investigation for corruption and also up for reelection in November, has been leading the charge for supportive parents of trans kids to be investigated for child abuse. (If you’re unaware how crucial state attorney general elections are, since the fall of Roe v. Wade, Democratic attorneys general have coalesced to pledge to protect pregnant people from prosecution and not enforce abortion bans.)
Google has yet to respond to either Democrats’ or Republicans’ letters. But, earlier this month, it did seem to address other demands from activists and top Democrats, announcing it would automatically delete the location data of users who visit facilities like abortion clinics, fertility centers, domestic violence shelters, and counseling centers. Unsurprisingly, however, Google didn’t go into detail about how it would respond to future requests for information from law enforcement, offering only the vague promise that it would “continue to oppose demands that are overly broad or otherwise legally objectionable.”
Prior to this announcement, advocates and Democratic lawmakers had accused Google of being complicit in the possible criminalization of abortion and pregnancy loss by collecting and storing location data of abortion patients, and in some cases, turning location data over to law enforcement. Per the company’s own reporting, it received 11,554 geo-fence warrants from police in 2020 alone. “If abortion is made illegal by the far-right Supreme Court and Republican lawmakers, it is inevitable that right-wing prosecutors will obtain legal warrants to hunt down, prosecute, and jail women for obtaining critical reproductive health care,” top Democrats in Congress wrote in a letter to Google in May. “The only way to protect your customers’ location data from such outrageous government surveillance is to not keep it in the first place.”
To Democrats’ point, long before the overturning of Roe in June, women and pregnant people had faced criminal charges for their pregnancy outcomes or even abortions—and prosecutors have relied heavily on these individuals’ digital footprints to prosecute them.
That Republican state attorneys general have taken such an active interest in protecting crisis pregnancy centers and ensuring abortion seekers find their websites is particularly concerning given what CPCs have often been used for: spying and collecting data of abortion seekers. A popular chatline on many CPCs’ websites is known to save and use “all remarks” for “any and all purposes…appropriate to the mission and vision of Option Line.’” Some states have even introduced or passed bills to collaborate with crisis pregnancy centers to create databases of abortion seekers’ information. And last week, Politico reported that states that have banned abortion post-Roe were responsible for more than 5,700 demands for users’ location data since 2018.
It seems pretty clear Republican attorneys general want to ensure abortion seekers are ensnared by crisis pregnancy centers, or at least CPCs’ websites, as part of a broader effort to surveil and criminalize them. It’s now been more than a month since the Supreme Court overturned Roe, and between threatening IVF and birth control, demanding the right to let pregnant people just die, and harassing a 10-year-old rape victim and her doctor, anti-abortion lawmakers’ efforts to make pregnant people’s lives as dangerous and miserable as possible haven’t slowed in the slightest.