Starting next month, Google will enforce new policies for ads related to abortion in the United States, United Kingdom and Ireland. Google will now require advertisers that want to run ads with abortion-related keywords to apply for certification as an organization that does, or does not, provide abortions. If their ads are approved, they will run with an automatically-generated disclaimer identifying which category they fall into.
The announcement of the new policies comes less than two weeks after the Guardian reported that Google had provided $150,000 in free advertising through its grant program for non-profits to the Obria Group, an anti-abortion group that runs crisis pregnancy centers, or organizations that provide services like pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and counseling, but ultimately seek to deter people from getting abortions.
According to the Guardian, the ads placed by the Obria Group were misleading and made it appear as though their centers provide abortions, a tactic used by many crisis pregnancy centers. Google’s new policies also come as several states, including Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky and Ohio have passed, or are seeking to pass, extremely restrictive laws limiting access to abortion.
Google did not mention crisis pregnancy centers or the new legislation in its policy update announcement, but the new rules may help limit the appearance of misleading ads. Before running ads with abortion-related keywords, advertisers must first submit an application to Google saying whether or not they provide abortions. If it is approved, their ads will run with automatically-generated in-ad disclaimers that says the advertiser either “provides abortions” or “does not provide abortions.” The disclosures will appear on the ads across all Search ad formats.
Google’s existing policies about abortion-related ads, which list countries where such ads are not allowed, or only allowed to run on a limited basis, will remain in place. (Abortion-related ads don’t appear on the Google Display Network.)
Google has already been criticized for allowing misleading ads related to abortion, including five years ago after an investigation by NARAL Pro-Choice American into ads for crisis pregnancy centers, the same issue reported by the Guardian this month. Misinformation about abortion is rampant, so this is a step in the right direction, but it remains to be seen how effective Google’s new policy will be in combating a long-standing problem.