Google will start adding clear labels to Search and Map listings for healthcare facilities that provide abortions. The change comes in light of the Supreme Court’s decision to strip federal abortion rights. The company said on Thursday that if it has received confirmation that a healthcare facility provides abortions, the label for the center will say “Provides abortions.” In cases where Google doesn’t have that confirmation, the label for relevant searches will say “Might not provide abortions.”
Today’s announcement comes as U.S. lawmakers have urged Google to fix abortion searches that navigate people to fake clinics and crisis pregnancy centers that steer people away from abortions.
The company says the change is rolling out as part of a series of improvements to how Google displays and labels search results for certain places in Search and Maps. A spokesperson for the company told TechCrunch that the improvements will give users additional context about the search results that they’re seeing.
The company says that just like when you search for a specific COVID vaccine brand or EV charging facilities, and the initial local results that you see show places that offer that service, it will now show this for veterans hospitals and healthcare facilities that offer abortions. The company plans to expand these labels to more places and facilities in the future.
Google says it gets confirmation that a place provides a particular service in a number of ways, including regularly calling businesses directly and working with authoritative data sources.
“When people turn to Google to find local information, we aim to help them easily explore the range of places available so they can determine which are most helpful to them,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “For a number of categories where we’ve received confirmation that places offer specific services, we’ve been working for many months on more useful ways to display those results. We’re now rolling out an update that makes it easier for people to find places that offer the services they’ve searched for, or broaden their results to see more options. We followed our standard testing and evaluation process to confirm that these updates are more helpful for people.”
A recent report from Bloomberg found that Google regularly misleads people searching for abortion clinics. The report found that crisis pregnancy centers make up around a fourth of the top 10 search results on average in all 50 states and Washington, DC. Another report from The Guardian found that Google misdirects one in 10 searches for abortion to pregnancy crisis centers.
It’s worth noting that the new updates aren’t focused on labelling pregnancy crisis centers. When asked if Google will specifically label crisis pregnancy centers with the “Might not provide abortions” label or if it will only use that label in instances where it’s unsure of the services provided, the company said the update is not about categorizing places themselves or labeling specific types of organizations. However, considering that the company is tagging abortion clinics with the “Provides abortions” label, it is in fact categorizing clinics by the services they offer. Google’s response indicates that today’s update isn’t about better labelling crisis pregnancy centers, despite the fact that the company has the means to do so. In addition, the company notes that the “Might not provide abortions” label could appear on a range of different places that are available in an area but don’t provide that service, such as a women’s health clinic like Planned Parenthood that doesn’t offer abortions in a given place or another health facility.
Yelp, on the other hand, has released an update that is focused on categorizing crisis pregnancy centers. The company announced this week that it will add a consumer notice to crisis pregnancy centers to differentiate them from abortion clinics. The new label will notify users that these centers “typically provide limited medical services and may not have licensed medical professionals onsite.”
As part of the changes announced today, Google is also making it easier to expand your search if you didn’t find what you’re looking for initially. The company notes that in some cases, you might be looking for a type of place or service where there aren’t any relevant results near you. In these instances, Google will now provide an option to “search father away.” This change will apply to places like health clinics, physiotherapy centers and travel clinics. Google plans to expand this feature to additional types of places in the future where the most relevant result might not be nearby.
Although Google didn’t say this explicitly, it’s possible that this update could be beneficial for people looking for abortion clinics in a state where the procedure has been outlawed. In theory, the feature could be used to find the nearest abortion clinic near you in a nearby state where the procedure isn’t limited.
Google’s updates around searches for abortion come as a group of more than 600 Google employees is pressing the company to expand worker health benefits, divest itself of some political ties and bolster user privacy in light of the Supreme Court decision to strip federal abortion rights.