Disinformation is dangerous. Especially when it concerns abortion care. I have long written and spoken about disinformation and reproductive rights. In fact, last August the Freedom From Religion Foundation hosted an “Ask an Atheist” show specifically drawing attention to reproductive rights in the age of disinformation. And we are continuing to stand up for science and evidence.
Disinformation, or the intentional manipulation of information to mislead people, is dangerous and it abounds in relation to abortion. Indeed, abortion bans and restrictions themselves are rooted in disinformation. After all, abortion is a common medical procedure, it is extremely safe, and complications are very rare. Medication abortion, which the Food and Drug Administration first approved in 2000 and recently approved for telemedicine, is an incredible way to make abortion care accessible to the masses, particularly for people in rural areas without abortion clinics.
And, yet, we now live in a country in which Roe v. Wade has been overturned and abortion is illegal, or is soon to be illegal, in 16 states. True, Roe was never enough because Christian nationalist legislation has made abortion inaccessible to the most marginalized of people for decades. But the impact of the fall of Roe has been swift and we have disinformation to thank for that.
Christian nationalists thrive on disinformation when pushing their anti-abortion agenda. When they’re not touting biblical scripture as justifications for being anti-abortion, they desperately cling to disinformation to convince the masses that abortion is something worthy of condemnation. In fact, the Guttmacher Institute has reported that doctors in 27 states require people to provide medically inaccurate information about the supposed risks of abortion. This includes false information about medication abortion, false claims about a link between abortion and breast cancer, and incorrectly telling patients that abortions can lead to fertility issues and psychological distress. None of this is true. Rather, studies have shown that denying someone an abortion can lead to mental, physical, emotional and financial stress.
Some of the most notorious aspects of disinformation run amok are Crisis Pregnancy Centers. These centers pretend to be legitimate medical clinics, when, in reality, they often lack a single medical professional on staff. By luring low-income women in with offers for free ultrasounds and sexually transmitted infection tests, they use disinformation and manipulation to dissuade patients from choosing an abortion. These Christian-based, anti-LGBTQ organizations also take in tax dollars. In the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s home state of Wisconsin, there are over 80 Crisis Pregnancy Centers. Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s four abortion clinics have been shuttered, since legitimate health care clinics are now banned from providing abortion services because of an 1849 abortion ban never removed from the books.
And, in the age of social media, disinformation about abortion is exploding on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube. Content with false claims about the dangers of medication abortion and promotion of the abortion reversal pill, which is not rooted in evidence-based science, are two of the most prevelant themes. Such disinformation is not only inaccurate, but is a threat to public health.
That’s why I am grateful that the Freedom From Religion Foundation signed onto a letter with major reproductive rights organizations calling out this disinformation. UltraViolet, as part of the Women’s Disinfo Defense Project (WDDP), and Physicians for Reproductive Health created a letter to major social media platforms demanding that they take action about this widespread disinformation about abortion. The letter says, “Any medical disinformation is a threat to public health and the safety of users on your platform. Particularly with the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned landmark abortion rights cases Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the need and urgency to remove medical disinformation — especially about medical care for abortion — and direct users to accurate, science-based information is critical, now more than ever. Your platforms must take immediate steps.” You can read the full letter here.
We must use our secular voices to call out such dangerous disinformation whenever we encounter it. It is one small step in fighting for abortion rights.