Google Maps is supposed to make our search for goods and services easier — want Chinese food at 2 am? Unexpectedly got your period and need to find a laundromat ASAP? Or maybe you finally tried parkour and need medical attention? Type “where can I get stitches” into the Google search bar, and a map appears in your browser, showing the locations of all the hospitals and Urgent Care centers within a ten-mile radius, including their hours, what they offer, contact information, and reviews. This model makes it simple to find whatever you need, if you’re looking for anything other than an abortion, that is.
The problem, and the beauty, of Google Maps is that it’s partially crowd-sourced: anyone can make a listing for a business or a non-profit, and anyone can rate and review said listing. This makes it super easy for anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPC) to masquerade as abortion clinics—dissuading women from finding health care and increasing the abortion-access crisis.
In a recent investigation by Gizmodo, crisis pregnancy centers’ “patient base relies primarily on those who are intending to go to abortion clinics to end their pregnancies. It is essential for them to insert themselves into those clinic searches in order to find targets.” CPCs describe themselves as “women’s health clinics” and “pregnancy centers,” and often have names that sound like abortion clinics, such as “Choice” and “Women’s Care.” They use Google’s “add a missing place” function to insert themselves into abortion center searches, causing people to mistake them for clinics.
Often, CPCs, which outnumber abortion centers in most states, will appear above actual clinics in search results on Google Maps, causing folks to overlook the actual abortion centers at the bottom of the list, or to lose faith and give up the search. Sometimes, as is the case in Toledo, Ohio — where only one abortion clinic still exist in the western region of the state — anti-choicers will tamper with clinic information, marking it as “permanently closed.”
The ability for anti-choice users to manipulate results can create an abortion access crisis in states where the procedure is limited. Mistaking a CPC for a legit abortion clinic can also be traumatizing and uncomfortable, as the staff “pressures clients to “choose life,” reports Gizmodo.
Google Maps is algorithm-based, and the company is “looking into the [loophole] issues,” said Liz Davidoff, Google’s Communications Manager, in a statement to Gizmodo. Hopefully, they’ll fix it soon, until then it’s just one more hurdle folks have to face when seeking a legal abortion.
top photo from stmaryathens via WikiCommonsikiCommons
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Cricket Epstein is BUST's editorial intern. She writes about feminism, films, witches, and all things awesome (and terrible). She is currently working on a health and wellness website and podcast, to be launched in the near future. You can follow her on instagram @t0tally_buggin and at her poorly maintained doodlegram @poorly_drawn_puns.