In the days and weeks leading up to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, disinformation about abortion surged online. Many of the false claims, part of a decades-in-the-making coordinated campaign waged by anti-choice groups to restrict access to abortion, infiltrated the final Supreme Court majority opinion. As people wade through the complex web of compounding and conflicting legal repercussions across the country, anti-choice actors continue to cloud our information sources with more disinformation. Lessons from decades of abortion disinformation can help communicators and advocates anticipate and prepare to combat what will come next.

According to several reports, disinformation about abortion more than doubled on Facebook and Twitter in the week following the early May leak of the SCOTUS draft opinion. And in the hours immediately following the final ruling in June, anti-choice groups began spending thousands of dollars on Facebook ads intended to misinform audiences about the safety of abortion, an especially insidious tactic during the immediate aftermath as states scrambled to understand the legal ramifications in their jurisdictions. Abortion is now banned outright in nine states, and more than half the country is poised to ban or heavily restrict access to the procedure based on trigger laws that can take effect following SCOTUS’ decision. As people who can become pregnant navigate a complex legal minefield to understand what this decision means for their own well-being, anti-choice groups are obscuring access to accurate information about the types of reproductive health care options available. The people who will be hurt most are those who already face barriers accessing abortion care: Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, those working to make ends meet, those in the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, people with disabilities, and those living in rural communities. This is, of course, the exact aim of most disinformation campaigns: to keep marginalized people in the margins.

While disinformation and framing are just two among the many tools anti-choice advocates have used in their fight to limit essential abortion access, they are the vantage point from which I have watched this fight unfold over the last decade. I began my career combatting disinformation at Media Matters for America, where I monitored countless hours of news media to track and combat conservative disinformation. I’ve had a front-row seat to watching harmful frames and narratives make their way from fringe actors, to mainstream news outlets, to the highest court in the land.

Preventing Amplification

As the dust begins to settle on our new post-Roe reality, anti-choice activists’ disinformation campaigns will proliferate. This moment is pivotal: We must prevent amplification of disinformation that would seek to cloud people’s access to the information they need about the abortion options they have available to them. As communicators and advocates, we have a critical role to play. By anticipating the disinformation that’s to come and preparing our partners with strategic tools to analyze and determine whether and how to respond, we can prevent amplification and spread of harmful disinformation.

Here’s what we can do:

  1. Avoid debunking one-for-one.
  2. Hold social platforms accountable for accuracy.
  3. Use messaging strategies to combat disinformation.
  4. Fill content voids by sharing accurate information that is easily accessible to all audiences.
  5. Avoid stigmatizing language.

Read the full article about fighting abortion disinformation by Liv Kittel at Stanford Social Innovation Review.