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Google Maps redirect people searching for abortion clinics

The company says it is working on the issue, but in the meantime, Christian groups are gaming the system to discourage abortion.

If you think you have heard it all, here is a shocking revelation: Within some areas with limited amounts of abortion clinics, Google Maps redirects people searching for abortion clinics to anti-abortion groups. 

In North Dakota there is only one abortion clinic left. It is called Red River Women’s Clinic, and it’s located in the states second largest city Fargo. If a person were to search for a clinic outside of the city, Google Maps would direct them to anti-abortion groups, including the North Dakota Right to Life, which is a Christian organization that hosts pro-life events. On their website, they claim to offer free medical and support services such as pregnancy testing, ultrasounds and “pregnancy options.” However, the organization will not refer clients to any abortion providers. 

“That is very frustrating, and certainly I would love to be able to do something about that,” said Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women’s Clinic

In another search on Google Maps for abortion clinics in Tennessee, the result brings up a direction to a monument to “unborn” children which is situated in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

This sort of occurrence is prevalent in regions where there is little to no access to abortion clinics. There are several other states such as Kentucky, Mississippi and Missouri with very few abortion clinics where search results for those services show a string of anti-abortion groups.

The problem stems from the fact that websites for anti-abortion organizations and those that belong to abortion clinics often use similar keywords during categorization by Google listings. Keywords such as “women’s health clinics,” “women’s health centers” and “pregnancy care centers” are used for organizations and clinics that don’t offer abortion services or are strictly pro-life, but these same keywords are also used by abortion clinics. As Google Maps uses an automated system to bring out search results, some pro-life organizations give a misrepresentation of their purpose by adding keywords and phrases such as “abortion advice” and “abortion help” causing them to pop up in searches for abortion clinics.

Google counters the problem of organizations gaming the algorithm by not relying exclusively on its automated systems, but instead deploying human analysts to various businesses to identify those that intentionally misrepresent themselves on Google maps. However, this is an expensive and trying process. 

Google claims that they work hard to ensure that the search results for all businesses are accurate and relevant for users who need the information, and that the Google Maps search algorithm has gotten more reliable since 2018. A Google spokesperson told Business Insider, “We have policies in place against businesses that misrepresent themselves on Maps and when we become aware we respond to as quickly as possible. We also empower our users to report listings for correction or removal if they believe a business is misrepresenting itself or its services.”

They also recognize the problems associated with search results on Google Maps regarding abortion clinics. Therefore, they have implemented several policies such as requiring organizions running ads about abortion to certify that they actually offer abortion. This is one step that would deter pro-life clinics from misrepresenting their business on Google Maps. Users can also report these erroneous listings to ensure that they are corrected or removed altogether.

While Google claims they want to fix the agorithms to verify abortion clinics more accurately, incorrect labels still slip through. According to a new study done by the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, dozens of anti abortion groups or “Crisis pregnancy centers” within Canda have misleading advertisments in which they present themselves as unbiased medical centers. These websites claim that they will provide women with non judgemental information but are known to persuade and provide people with inaccurate information regarding abortions.

 On Google Maps, many anti-abortion clincs are defined as “pregnancy care center” or “women’s health clinic” making it difficult to differentiate locations that provide the sought after procedure. 

While Google tries to rectify these errors, any delay could lead a vulnerable women into a situation that may be detrimental to mental and physical health and could cause damage to their sense of comfort and security. But most importantly: this misdirection, which could cost time and delay their ability to receive the procedure they seek, may leave them with no options.

Image Credit: Deepanker Verma

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