A recent investigation by two media organizations has revealed a potentially troubling aspect of relying on Google Maps — specifically for women seeking abortions.
“If you’re searching for abortion care, be careful using Google Maps — you might end up at a crisis pregnancy center instead of a legit clinic,” the investigative report reads, referring to antiabortion clinics. “These facilities, where staff pressures clients to ‘choose life,’ have been gaming results at the local level using keywords and the maps function.”
To conduct the study, Gizmodo asked 20 people in cities and states across the United States to Google the question “Where can I get an abortion near me?” The aim was to see if any crisis pregnancy centers (“CPC”) would land among the options that showed up. In all but two places — Little Rock, Ark., and Queens, N.Y. — they did.
It’s a problematic outcome for two reasons: First, CPCs do not perform abortions, and second, they actively persuade women not to have them using fear and misinformation. According to a 2015 report from the nonprofit NARAL Pro-Choice America, CPCs in America actively employ “deceptive practices” in order to “lure pregnant women” into their institutions and dissuade them from terminating a pregnancy.
Many CPCs are based in Christian beliefs and directly incorporate religion into their practice. Some receive government funding, which allows them to pull off the illusion that they are legitimate. On top of “targeted and misleading advertising,” they purport to share real medical advice.
NARAL’s report, which includes a finding that women of color are more often targeted, is blunt. “Crisis pregnancy centers are a danger to women’s reproductive health and rights,” it reads. “Not only do they lie to women about the risks associated with birth control and abortion, they do not give women accurate information about all the medical options available.”
In tandem with Gizmodo’s finding on how the centers show up in searches for abortion clinics, the new women’s site Damn Joan ran a first-person piece by a reporter in Tennessee who visited a CPC. After typing “abortion nearby” into a Google search, the writer — who remained anonymous for protection — got a list of options that included many CPCs. She chose one called Choices Resource Center and made an appointment for a pregnancy test the next day.
According to her piece, when the two nurses there learned that the writer planned to abort the pregnancy if it was positive, they instantly tried to change her mind. One said that it wasn’t a “decision to make lightly” and that it could not only have “have serious mental consequences” but “physical complications” as well (both are extremely rare). The other nurse told her that “God put this baby in your belly” and that he “knows what he’s doing.”
The experience lines up with NARAL’s repeated investigations of CPCs. “Their tactics include targeted and misleading advertising, maintaining the illusion of being real medical clinics providing real medical information, and in some states, receiving the veneer of legitimacy through state funding and mandated referrals,” the report reads.
When reached for comment about the reporter’s experience at their clinic, a staff member at Choices Resource Center said she was unaware of the article in question. Yahoo Lifestyle asked for a comment but never received one. In response to the Gizmodo report, Google Maps communications manager Liz Davidoff sent the following statement. “We’re looking into the issues flagged. We strive for business results that are relevant, accurate and help users find what they’re looking for.”
Until Google Maps fully investigates the issue, it may be smart to hold off relying on it as the place to find an abortion clinic — especially if you’re in one of the states where they’re hard to find.
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