Women in the UK seeking an abortion are being directed by Google Maps to pro-life organisations.
Search results for abortion clinics on the web mapping service suggest addresses and phone numbers for a number of “pregnancy crisis centres” – non-profit organisations which counsel pregnant women against having an abortion.
The searches highlighted centres in locations across the UK including Aberdeen, Loughborough and Horsham.
These findings came as a result of a Sunday Telegraph investigation which revealed that pregnancy crisis centres in England, Scotland and Wales were manipulating the system to appear on Google Maps.
According to the report, when a business requests to be listed on Google the owners are asked which category their service fits into and which search terms they want their website to appear for.
It found that a number of pro-life centres had categorised themselves as abortion clinics and that they were using keywords and phrases, such as “abortion advice”, to help them appear higher in Google’s search engine.
The Sunday Telegraph suggests that this appears to be a trend that started in the United States, where a network of centres, funded by private donors and religious organisations, are using technology to specifically target women looking for medical help.
Through the investigation, it found more than 50 pregnancy crisis centres that appeared as abortion clinics on Google Maps in the US.
In response to the findings, Katherine O’Brien, head of media and policy research at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) told The Independent: “We are not opposed to the principal of anti-choice organisations offering services to women who wish to seek out their advice. However, we are opposed to the tactics these groups employ in order to lure in pregnant women who are trying to access impartial medical care.
“We know that many of these organisations will give women inaccurate and potentially harmful information, for example telling them that abortion causes breast-cancer, alcohol dependency, and will prevent them from loving their children.
”These distressing mistruths do not, in our experience, prevent women from seeking an abortion if that is the choice she has made – but they can cause delays in accessing services, and make what can be a difficult decision that much harder. These groups are not “pro-life” – they are anti-women.”
A spokesperson for Abortion Rights also told The Independent: “Abortion Rights is disappointed to hear that Google Maps is leading women to fake abortion clinics.
“These centres have falsely categorised themselves as ‘abortion clinics’. They are deceiving women.
“Such centres have an anti-choice agenda and actively attempt to prevent women from obtaining abortion. This can be by providing false and judgemental information, delaying access to the CPC itself and thus potentially termination services, and not providing abortion service provider details.
The national pro-choice campaign is now calling for Google to make a clear distinction between the two.
“Abortion Rights believes that Google Maps must clearly make a distinction between real abortion providers and the anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centres.
“Crisis pregnancy centres should be legally required to uphold accountability, transparency and medical practice legislation.
“We believe they should be required to offer only factually correct information and be equipped with qualified staff for the services they advertise. NHS, sexual health places and private clinics already offer professional counselling to women who request it.”
The Independent has contacted Google for comment.