Google changes policy to block misleading ads for anti-abortion groups

Vivian Ho


Google has changed its advertising policy after facing scrutiny for providing tens of thousands of dollars in free advertising to an anti-abortion group that runs misleading ads designed to deter women from terminating their pregnancies.

Google announced this week that starting in June, advertisers running ads “using keywords related to getting an abortion” will first have to distinguish themselves as an organization that “either provides abortions or does not provide abortions”, according to the new policy update.

Related: Irish anti-abortion campaigners dodge Google's ad ban

The policy change comes after the Guardian revealed the Obria Group ran ads suggesting it provides abortion services at its medical clinics, but actually sought to deter “abortion-minded women” from terminating their pregnancies.

Obria runs a network of clinics known as crisis pregnancy centers across the US that provide some prenatal treatment, such as pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and counseling, but also seek to deter women from seeking abortions and do not offer referrals for alternative treatment.

Obria was awarded a $120,000 Google advertising grant in 2015, according to a public filing. In 2011, it received nearly $32,000.

The report led to pressure from lawmakers in Washington, who denounced the “intentional misinformation campaigns” of organizations such as the Obria Group.

Carolyn Maloney, a senior Democratic congresswoman from New York, said in a letter sent to Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, that she was “appalled” by the report in the Guardian that Google awarded $150,000 in free advertising to the Obria Group, which Maloney said had a history of falsely advertising medical services to women.

“Google should in no way be subsidizing any misinformation campaigns, especially campaigns designed to deceive women about their own reproductive care options,” Maloney said in her letter to Pichai.

“Your continued support of Obria Group’s intentional misinformation campaigns denies women access to truthful information about their medical choices,” she added.

The letter was jointly signed with Suzanne Bonamici, a Democratic congresswoman from Oregon.

Google had already come under pressure in the past for running advertisements that appear to violate its own policies against misrepresentation in advertising, yet the company continued to publish ads for clinics that seem to offer abortion services but are actually opposed to terminations and try to dissuade women from seeking them out.

According to the new Google policy, advertisers must get certified by submitting an application that requires basic information about the organization.

“Depending on how you’re certified, Google will automatically generate one of the following in-ad disclosures for your abortion product or service ads: ‘Provides abortions’ or ‘Does not provide abortions’,” the new policy reads.

“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.”