Google Is Making Millions of Dollars From Ads for Fake Abortion Clinics: Report

A report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate said Google had profited from adverts placed for so-called “crisis pregnancy centres” alongside searches for terms like “abortion clinic near me.”
Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Google has earned more than ten million dollars from adverts placed by anti-abortion groups promoting their services in the United States in just two years, a new report has claimed.

The report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a non-profit group that researches online misinformation, highlights the way in which anti-choice groups promote so-called “crisis pregnancy centres” to people searching for abortion services on Google.


The centres have been labelled as “fake clinics” as they do not offer abortion services but in most cases seek to dissuade individuals from seeking terminations, sometimes with medical disinformation.

The CCDH used a third-party tool called Semrush which estimated fake clinics had spent $10.2 million on Google search ads between March 2021 and February this year to appear alongside results for terms such as “abortion pill”, “abortion clinic”, “abortion clinic near me” and “planned parenthood.”

The report said that these clinics spend twice as much on Google ads in US states where abortion is legal, and that they are four times as likely to spend on ads for fake clinics than they are on general anti-abortion campaigning. 

The report identified that 71 percent of the clinics used deceptive means to attract clicks, including the advancing of false claims around abortion, and that 38 percent of them did not carry disclaimers on their home pages saying that they did not provide abortions.

A spokesperson from Google told VICE News: “We require any organisation that wants to advertise to people seeking information about abortion services to be certified and clearly disclose whether they do or do not offer abortions. Last year, we updated these disclosures to make them even more visible. We also have policies prohibiting advertisers, including those in our Ads Grants Program, from promoting products or services that they do not actually offer and remove ads that violate this policy.”


The spokesperson added: “We know that people come to Google looking for information they can trust during deeply personal moments and are committed to ensuring advertisements on this topic are clear and easily understood.”  

Callum Hood, who led the research for the CCDH, told VICE News that they had to use third party analytics tools because “there’s no meaningful transparency of advertising on Google search. You can’t find how much they’re spending, what terms it’s targeting, basic questions that are available on a couple of other platforms to get that bigger picture.”

He said this “sets a very low bar” for search engines. “It’s really the test for how information curated by any search engine should work and should be regulated. At present there’s actually really poor insight.” 

Previous research from the CCDH revealed that 132 misleading ads for fake clinics were displayed in Google search results for keywords associated with five abortion services, with none of the ads carrying a disclaimer stating that the advertiser did not provide abortions. 

This loophole, which allows fake clinics to advertise under searches like “planned parenthood” with no disclaimers, still appears to exist.

Google is a favoured means of anti-abortion groups in raising awareness of their organisations; one anti-choice marketing firm studied by the report stated that intake forms filled out by visitors to fake clinics reveal that Google is now their top source of referrals.

Studies have also shown that up to 68 percent of users are unable to distinguish Google ads from organic search results.

Last year VICE News revealed that Google Maps was 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.

Imran Ahmed, the CEO of the CCDH, said: “Google have had every chance to fix it and they still refuse to do so. There’s a point where you stop giving them the benefit of the doubt. In exchange for money they’re a willing participant in the systematic deception of people around the world about their sexual and reproductive rights. And they’ve become an ally of the anti-choice industry.”