The fight over abortion rights in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade has migrated online. This has dragged Google into the spotlight as Democrats and Republicans warn against allowing misinformation regarding abortion to proliferate as well as seeking services to access services in the first place.
On Thursday, the Associated Press reported on a letter signed by 17 Republican state attorneys general to Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai where they warned against limiting the appearance of anti-abortion pregnancy centers in their search results.
The letter, led by Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, cautioned that any move to limit this information could invite state-level legal action against the company on possible antitrust and First Amendment grounds.
“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 letter read, adding that they hoped the company would respond within 14 days to address their concerns.
The Republicans’ letter follows a pair of separate letters by Democrats in Congress and at the state level that urged Google to do more to label anti-abortion clinics as such in a clearer way that would not mislead those seeking abortion-related services.
Drawing on a report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) last month that showed the type of clinics cited by Republicans appeared 11% of the time in search results for abortion services in 13 GOP-led states that passed “trigger laws” to ban the practice in recent months. They requested Google to take steps to reduce the percentage of search results related to these clinics and more accurately label them.
“Directing women towards fake clinics that traffic in misinformation and don’t provide comprehensive health services is dangerous to women’s health and undermines the integrity of Google’s search results,” read a joint letter by 19 congressional Democrats led by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Michigan that was issued in June.
Especially as a post-Roe America looms, it’s unacceptable that Google search results & ads are directing some women to fake abortion clinics. This week, @MarkWarner & I sent a letter Google’s CEO pushing the company to crack down on these kinds of results. https://t.co/3BWomoQzrN pic.twitter.com/dZaGXTJScN
— Rep. Elissa Slotkin (@RepSlotkin) June 18, 2022
At the state level, the office of New York’s Attorney General Letitia James sent a letter to Google’s general counsel that called on the company to do more to ensure search results for abortion and anti-abortion services were clearly labeled. Attorneys general in California and Massachusetts issued similar warnings in the last month that did not explicitly address Google.
This fight over access to accurate abortion information comes as Democratic and Republican states continue to draw battle lines opposite one another over abortion rights post-Roe.
Democratic-led states have promised to protect residents of states where abortion services are inaccessible if they seek an abortion in their jurisdictions. Several have also taken steps to expand access to abortion services or codify it into their state constitutions.
Republican states for their part have worked to enforce their own bans on abortion and dissuade their residents from seeking them. Some are considering legislation that would allow lawsuits against citizens traveling for an abortion.
At the federal level, the Biden administration has vowed to protect citizens who go out of state for an abortion. In the U.S. Senate. Republicans themselves have expressed reservations about these moves by their state counterparts.