Anti-abortion groups are smuggling adverts into Google searches

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Moya Lothian-McLean
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Paid results are promoting pro-life messages.

An investigation has revealed that anti-abortion groups – who have previously (and incorrectly) linked abortion to breast cancer, infertility, drug abuse and depression – are promoting their services to vulnerable women using sponsored ads on Google search.

BuzzFeed News found that the search term “buy abortion pills online” generated sponsored links for – a religious, pro-life group – and Life – a secular anti-abortion organisation that received £250,000 in 2017 thanks to the 5% ‘tampon tax’ reserved for supporting UK women’s charities by Theresa May’s government.

Searches for “abortion pills”, “I need an abortion now”, “I need an abortion asap” and “abortion pills price” also featured sponsored links for Life within the top three results, along with ads for abortion provider Marie Stopes.

Links to lead to ‘testimonies’ from women who report regretting their decisions to terminate pregnancies and to an advisory page that claims an abortion can cause “suicidal thoughts”, “eating disorders” and an “aversion to children/mothers.” Life’s website sets out a similar message, including offering links to anti-abortion presentations designed to be shown to adolescents, aged 15 and upwards. “We won’t give up until those facing difficult pregnancies can choose life and abortion is a thing of the past,” reads a section titled “Our Vision”.

“We have no control over how Google search algorithms work”, Life told BuzzFeed in a statement. “We are entitled to reach out as best as we can to vulnerable women facing crisis pregnancy, including those considering abortion, with offers of counselling and support.”

Google also denied that sponsored results for anti-abortion groups violated their advertising policy. 

“We have a strict set of policies that govern the types of ads that we allow on Google,” a spokesperson said. “If we discover an ad that breaks our policies, we quickly take action.”

Intriguingly, the adverts now appear to have been wiped from results produced by the abortion search terms, suggesting that the tech giant has found them to be in breach of their regulations. According to Google Analytics data, searches for “abortion pills online” hit peak popularity in 2017 while the number of abortions carried out in 2016 across England and Wales fell slightly to 190,406. 

Images: Pixabay