Conservative activists, having achieved their goal of being able to criminalize abortion, are now aiming to restrict or ban online information sharing on the subject.
Driving the news: In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling that overthrew Roe V. Wade, tech platforms are already struggling to moderate abortion-related content and combat misinformation on the subject.
Why it matters: Those looking to share information about abortion online, whether about the procedure itself or where to legally access it, will find themselves in the crosshairs of restrictive state laws and changing social media guidelines.
What’s happening: There is confusion about what can and cannot be said about abortion in different spaces online.
- Motherboard reported Monday that Facebook is “removing the posts of users sharing status updates saying abortion pills can be mailed and, in some cases, temporarily banning those users.”
- Meta, whose policies prohibit people from buying and selling “non-medical drugs, pharmaceutical drugs, and marijuana” on the platform, said Some posts were removed by mistake.
- Shout Your Abortion, a campaign promoting access to abortion and education, revealed this week that Instagram put warnings about “sensitive material” on posts mentioning abortion, abortion pills, or criticizing the Supreme Court decision. (Instagram tweeted It was investigated whether sensitivity labels were misused.)
What you say: “We’re concerned about censorship, we’ve already been censored by social media sites,” Elisa Wells, director of Plan C, a website that provides information about medical abortion, told Axios. “We have a right to free speech to publish this information.”
- “But we are still preparing for further river shutdowns [information about access to abortion pills]’ Wells said. “We’ve gotten to a point where so many people are sharing information that they’re unstoppable.”
- “If there is anything [on a platform] this is how it looks [a platform] If criminal behavior is facilitated, then they need to take it seriously,” Matt Perault, former head of global policy development at Meta, now director of the University of North Carolina’s Center for Technology Policy, told Axios. “But platforms will also come under pressure not to silence the promotion of people legitimately seeking abortions.”
misinformation is also a problem. New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, wrote to Google this week, urging the company to correct search results that direct abortion seekers on Google Maps to “dangerous and misleading anti-abortion clinics in New York.”
- Online claims about abortion pills causing women infertility or death are proliferating in online forums. Videos promoting unsafe herbal abortion methods are popular on TikTok, Rolling Stone reported.
Game Status: Beyond the crackdown on social media platforms, conservative lawmakers can pass legislation criminalizing online talk about abortion on websites and internet services.
- New anti-abortion model legislation from the National Right to Life Committee could put reporters writing about abortion information and anyone sharing abortion information online at risk, the Prism news agency first reported earlier this week.
- This model legislation, which the organization encourages states to pass, would criminalize “assisting and inciting” an illegal abortion through instructions on the Internet and “hosting or maintaining a website that encourages or facilitates efforts to obtain an illegal abortion.”
- Texas’ anti-abortion law, SB8, already allows individuals to sue any person or institution for facilitating abortions, which free speech advocates say has chilling effects and fuels fears of litigation for sharing abortion information online.
Be smart: These laws could violate both the First Amendment and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which largely protects websites from liability for what their users post online.
The bottom line: In an environment increasingly hostile to First Amendment rights, Neither governments nor private companies are in a strong position to protect online speech.
- Some proponents say the Supreme Court decisions and subsequent actions by state lawmakers are a wake-up call to maintain strong legal protections for free speech nationally, like Section 230, which has come under fire from Big Tech critics.
- “Rather than spending tens of millions fighting in court, many online platforms will instead ‘run down’ and comply with the most restrictive state laws,” wrote Evan Greer and Lia Holland of digital rights group Fight for the Future in a Wired post – edit