Facebook has served “abortion reversal” adverts 18.4m times since January 2020, according to a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), promoting an “unproven, unethical” and “dangerous” procedure.
Google shows the adverts on more than four-fifths of searches related to abortion across a number of US cities, according to the CCDH research, targeted at search terms such as “unwanted pregnancy” and “abortion pill”.
The adverts promote an unproven theoretical use of high doses of the hormone progesterone to “reverse” the effects of taking mifepristone, the first of a pair of drugs used in a medical abortion.
But there is a “lack of medical evidence demonstrating the safety and efficacy of the treatment”, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, and it can lead to dangerous haemorrhaging.
Despite that, eight US states require people seeking an abortion to be given information that claims that such a reversal is an option. These laws, the study’s authors said, “essentially encourage women to participate in an unmonitored research experiment”.
Imran Ahmed, the chief executive of CCDH, said: “It is disgusting that groups seeking to undermine fundamental sexual and reproductive rights are able to spread misinformation to vulnerable women and girls. What’s worse – Facebook and Google are making money from this propaganda.
“Experts have in the past deemed ads for so-called ‘abortion pill reversals’ potentially lethal, unethical medical misinformation. That is why you don’t see them on television or on reputable newspapers or sites.
“Facebook and Google must stop these adverts, ban the groups and users involved in putting them together, and donate the tainted money they received to groups that protect fundamental sexual and reproductive rights.”
On Facebook, the platform’s own analytics show that as many as 1.5 million users in the UK and 3 million in the Republic of Ireland could have been targeted by adverts promoting the process, paid for by the anti-abortion groups SPUC in the UK and the Life Institute in Ireland.
Both company’s policies ought to forbid the adverts. Google has rules that ban advertisers from promoting “misleading information about products” and “non-government approved products that are marketed in a way that implies that they’re safe or effective”, while Facebook’s ban the adverts from being targeted to 13- to 17-year-olds – despite the fact that one set of ads from the US group Live Action that was targeted at women under the age of 44 was shown to at least 3,000 children under 18 across the US.
A Facebook spokesperson said: “We removed many of the ads identified in the report - most of which were inactive and months or years old - for violating our policies around offering adult products and services."
Google has been contacted for comment.