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Google removes abortion ads said to be misleading

Anti-abortion organizations' online campaigns to 'rescue babies' deemed inaccurate by Google

Google on Monday removed advertisements from "crisis pregnancy centers" after NARAL Pro-Choice America (NARAL), a nonprofit organization, convinced the search engine that the abortion-related ads violated Google’s policies by containing misleading information.

The ads were sponsored by groups such as Online for Life, a pro-life advocacy organization that targets users searching for “abortion clinic” with online ads, urging them to visit centers that don't provide abortion services and often present false information on abortion and birth control, NARAL said.

“We have no qualms with crisis pregnancy centers engaging in paid advertising,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL, wrote in a letter to Google CEO Larry Page in February. “However, we are deeply concerned with their false advertising practices.”

Following Google’s announcement, Hogue lauded the move.

“The action taken by Google to address this pressing problem raises the bar for other search engines to monitor and enforce their own advertising policies,” Hogue said in a statement on Monday. “We will continue to work with Google to ensure that their commitment results in women being directed to the resources and services they are seeking when they search online, ending this manipulation of women making vital health decisions.”

There are more than 4,000 crisis pregnancy centers across the country, which according to NARAL, actively dissuade women from undergoing abortions by falsely claiming that abortion can lead to breast cancer, sterility and psychological trauma. The group also says that the centers claim birth control pills cause abortion.

Crisis pregnancy center advertisements include slogans such as “Pregnant? Scared? You’re not alone,” followed by a 6-digit hotline number containing the word HELP and search engine links promising users to connect them to counseling options, “morning after pill information” and “abortion safety checklists,” according to NARAL. Nearly 80 percent of searches for “abortion clinic” performed in the 25 largest U.S. cities resulted in at least one crisis pregnancy center ad. 

"We're constantly reviewing ads to ensure they comply with our AdWords policies, which include strict guidelines related to ad relevance, clarity, and accuracy," Google told Al Jazeera in an emailed statement. "If we find violations, we'll take the appropriate actions — including account disablings and blacklists — as quickly as possible."

Google’s ad policy states that, “Misleading, inaccurate, and deceitful ads hurt everyone.”

NARAL's Hogue said: “Anyone looking for abortion services should be able to depend on their search engine to provide them with accurate resources.”

“Anything less is aiding and abetting ideologically driven groups with a calculated campaign to lie to and shame women making one of the most important decisions of our lives,” she added.

Online for Life acknowledges using marketing techniques to “rescue babies from abortion,” according to its website.

Pregnant women often feel “scared and helpless” and turn to the Internet as a place to find information and “not feel judged,” the organization says on its website. The Internet “is where the fight to save lives must take place.”

The website says the organization guides “a woman to a nearby life-affirming PRC [pregnancy resource center] where she can receive compassion, care, and honest information about abortion and all available life-giving alternatives.”

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