The barriers a woman faces when she’s seeking access to abortion can be countless, from cost to public policy to transportation. A new report has found yet another obstacle for women, right on their phones.
Google Maps search results could be pointing women seeking abortions to pregnancy crisis centers that don’t do terminations, Gizmodo reported in a collaborative project with Damn Joan. According to the report, searches for “Where can I get an abortion near me?” turned up crisis pregnancy centers as abortion clinic options in 18 out of 20 cities across the U.S. Crisis pregnancy centers are often non-medical, faith-based facilities that counsel women with unwanted pregnancies against abortion.
In 2014, NARAL Pro-Choice America found that the search term “abortion clinics” led users to crisis pregnancy centers about 79 percent of the time. The nonprofit reportedly pressured Google to stop accepting advertising for the centers, which deliberately aimed to top search results for keywords involving abortions—and often looked like organic results.
Now, instead of buying ads, organizations appear to be taking advantage of the Google Maps ranking system, which uses algorithms based on user input. Crisis centers can improve their rankings by entering business information and interacting with reviews. The star-rating reviews themselves can affect an organization’s positioning in search results, so if anti-abortion reviewers give low ratings to abortion clinics and high ratings to crisis centers, the rank changes accordingly.
In response to Gizmodo’s report, Google said its maps results are not impacted by ad sales or keywords in listings.
“We don’t share more information on how local rankings work to minimize people gaming the system,” Google Communications Manager Liz Davidoff told Gizmodo.
Davidoff recommended that users report problems with listings, which has to be done through Google Maps and not through the Google browser. He said Google will be “looking into” why pregnancy crisis centers are being included in searches for abortions.
“We strive for business results that are relevant, accurate and help users find what they’re looking for,” Davidoff said.