Google to force advertisers to declare abortion stance as debate rages in US

After it was revealed that Google had inadvertently given over $150,000 of free advertising to pro-life groups engaging in unscrupulous advertising practices, the company is now updating its advertising policy.

From June onwards, groups that want to advertise using keywords related to abortion must make clear whether their organization “provides abortions or does not provide abortions.” This stance will be displayed within future adverts themselves to better inform the public.  

Google says the disclosures will show on all search ad formats. “This added transparency will help ensure that users have the necessary information to decide which abortion-related ads are most relevant to them,” the company claimed.

The changes come after it was revealed that, over the course of several years, Google provided tens of thousands of dollars in free advertising to an anti-abortion group that reportedly ran misleading ads that actually aim to deter women from having abortions rather than providing them with the support and means to do so.

Obria Group, which runs a network of so-called ‘crisis pregnancy centres’ (CPCs) provides basic prenatal treatment, including pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, but also attempts to deter women from seeking abortions and does not provide referrals for alternative treatment options up to and including abortions themselves. Obria offers “natural family planning” but provides neither birth control pills, devices nor condoms to its clients.

The company’s CPCs are often located near to Planned Parenthood clinics which do offer abortion services. Google also reportedly demoted Planned Parenthood search results in its Maps app while sending women seeking abortions to CPCs. Henceforth, CPCs will marked as “non-providers” to clarify the options available to those seeking abortion information.  

“Google should not allow CPCs to use its platform to serve misinformation to pregnant women,” Alice Huling, counsel for the Campaign for Accountability, said. “Google’s business model is predicated on serving ads to customers, and the company is clearly uninterested in taking the steps necessary to crack down on misleading ads placed by CPCs.”

The revelations come amid the renewed furor over abortion in the US, following strict new laws in Alabama and Georgia. Democrat representatives Carolyn Maloney and Suzanne Bonamici penned a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai condemning the perceived tacit support for “misinformation campaigns” carried out by groups like Obria.

In response to outcry about its advertising practices, Google claimed “a diverse group that represents many different views and different causes” advertises on its platforms. Adding that the “ad grants program is open to qualified non-profits regardless of their position on abortion.”