Google Maps Is Still Failing to Direct People to Actual Abortion Clinics

Dozens of anti-abortion counselling centres are appearing in searches for abortion providers across Europe, analysis by VICE World News and Shake the Dust has found.
abortion providers google maps
Photo: Shake the Dust

Google Maps is directing people across Europe to anti-abortion counselling centres when they search for terms such as “abortion clinic” or “abortion provider,” despite Google promising to crack down on this outcome for users in the US after the fall of Roe v. Wade.

Earlier this year Google introduced new features in the US to clearly label if a healthcare facility provided abortions, after facing criticism from lawmakers who said Google was often directing people to crisis pregnancy centres, known for not providing abortion care and attempting to dissuade people from terminations. 

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But VICE World News analysis found 11 centres in the UK which do not offer abortions nor formally refer people to services when searching on Google Maps for “abortion clinic”. The majority of these centres are linked to prominent anti-abortion networks, and several named themselves “crisis pregnancy centres”.

A Dutch-based group called Shake the Dust is running an ongoing map-a-thon to track centres like this. In the first two weeks of its campaign, Hey Google, it found at least 151 non-abortion providers across Europe being returned in searches around abortion care, abortion provider, abortion support, pregnancy centre and centres for life support. 

Sanne Thijssen, Shake the Dust’s founder, told VICE World News over video call that a number of centres were found in Italy, where anti-abortion politician Giorgia Meloni recently won national elections. “Many call themselves pregnancy centres which claim to give you all the options, yet they never provide referrals or services themselves,” Thijssen said.

Not only are these centres appearing on Google Maps alongside abortion care providers – they do not have the “provides abortions” or “might not provide abortions” tags attached to results as Google has applied for users in the US. 

Charlotte Fischer, a trustee of the cross-Europe abortion fund Abortion Support Network, told VICE World News it was “really important” Google applied these same changes in Europe, and soon. “Anti-choice groups use misinformation to delay and divert people seeking abortions, and clear, reliable information would help a lot of them get the care they need,” she said. “This includes those who travel to the UK to get an abortion, who are already navigating unfamiliar services.”

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Katherine O’Brien from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which provides abortion care in the UK, said: “Google has committed to categorising results pages of crisis pregnancy centres to differentiate these organisations from healthcare providers in the US. This investigation clearly demonstrates that the company needs to amend the current listings system.”

O’Brien continued: “We are not opposed to the principle of anti-choice organisations offering services to women who wish to seek out their advice. However, we are opposed to the tactics these groups employ in order to lure in pregnant women who are trying to access impartial medical care.

“We urge Google to take action as a matter of urgency.”

Louise McCudden, the UK advocacy and public affairs adviser for MSI Reproductive Choices, an NGO which provides abortions worldwide, said: “Abortion is a standard healthcare procedure. When searching for health information online, it’s not unreasonable to expect healthcare-related results, instead of anti-abortion campaigns or unregulated, evidence-free groups. 

“At the very least, results should be clearly labelled so there’s no confusion about expertise or impartiality. Medical misinformation, especially when targeted at people seeking a time sensitive procedure like abortion, is extremely dangerous.” 

A number of factors could be responsible for the centres erroneously appearing as abortion clinics or providers. One is that they have possibly included abortion or abortion clinic as an additional category in the 10 keywords they may supply Google for their website.

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But another possibility could be search prominence, where rankings are influenced by the amount of marketing centres do. That could help them appear in Google searches, along with how they are reviewed and ranked by users – which in itself is vulnerable to manipulation.

Google declined to comment when presented with findings by VICE World News and Shake the Dust.  

Dr Jonathan Lord, a consultant gynaecologist and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “We are concerned that some anti-choice organisations are appearing in internet searches for abortion providers, so women may be misled by biased or possibly incorrect information that could cause unnecessary distress and delay their access to care.”

Shake the Dust will be keeping its open source map open to new additions. “We really want it to become a living resource,” Thijssen said, who is also running petitions to the Dutch government and the European parliament for Google to “put safe abortion on the map”. 

“A lot have either renamed themselves, changed location or even just disappeared. It’s important to keep this map up because the anti-abortion movement is really agile and able to pop up in different contexts. They thrive on this insecurity, vague language and discourse. They can be vague about the services they provide. Our map really helps to uncover that.”