The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization eliminating the constitutional right to abortion immediately created a chaotic information environment for patients and providers. Very quickly, individuals will need to understand a variety of regulations that may influence if, how, when, and where they can obtain an abortion—all of which may differ state to state. Is a woman allowed to end an ectopic pregnancy, for instance? Can a pregnant person who lives in a state where it's banned get a medication abortion? What is criminalized or subject to civil penalties by what state legislature?

As the abortion rights fight moves to the states, the battle for information influence is sure to become more pitched. Providers and potential patients will need clear, trustworthy, up-to-date guidance—and to be protected from bad information.

Abortion is already a minefield of medical misinformation—and, in some cases, deliberate disinformation. For example, some public health departments list abortion resources on their websites—but knowingly or unknowingly link to deceptive organizations, such as crisis pregnancy centers. These antiabortion organizations mimic clinics, but provide limited, biased or unscientific health information.

One study looked at 348 crisis pregnancy centers that had been included in state-provided abortion resource directories. The researchers found that 80 percent of them had at least one piece of misleading or false information on their websites. Most often they suggested abortion had some link to infertility, negative mental health outcomes or breast cancer—all of which are untrue.

In some cases, it is state legislators that have pushed medical misinformation. In 1992's Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Robert P. Casey, the governor of Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court allowed “Woman's Right to Know” laws, which require patients to be told or given details of fetal development. The court allowed this so long as it was “realistic” and “accurate scientific information.” But when researchers from Rutgers University had medical experts review the accuracy of these informed consent booklets from 23 states, they found that 31 percent of statements about fetal development in these materials were medically inaccurate.

Internet search algorithms also can be problematic, pointing users to fake clinics when they are looking for abortion providers. A recent study of Google search results in states with so-called “trigger laws” found that of 70 Google Map search results, 26 led to the location of fake antiabortion clinics.

Four potential sets of stakeholders could choose to lead the charge on preventing abortion misinformation. They are:

  • States
  • Data-Driven Reproductive Health Organizations
  • Technology Companies
  • Large Employers and Health Insurers

Read the full article about abortion misinformation by Julia Rollison at The RAND Corporation.