[16days_discussion] Google's Ad Policy re Info on Abortion Clinics
16 Days Campaign
16days at cwgl.rutgers.edu
Tue Jul 14 13:39:30 EDT 2009
> -------- Original Message --------
> Date: Sun, 5 Jul 2009 17:07:36 +0200 (CEST)
> From: Marieme HELIE LUCAS
>> It seems Google is stopping access to details of abortion clinics
>> through its web system, a very powerful anti-abortion gesture. The
>> letter below is to protest this and as many signatories as possible
>> are needed. If you wish to sign it, please write to
>> Rebecca Gomperts at gomperts at womenonwaves.org <x-msg://32/??>
>> with your name, organisation and contact details. And forward it to
>> as many colleagues as possible.
>> *From:* rebecca gomperts [ mailto:gomperts at womenonwaves.org
>> <mailto:gomperts at womenonwaves.org>]
>> *Sent:* 24 June 2009 13:36
>> *To:* Worldbytes
>> *Subject:* [worldbytes] signatures for letter to google
>> Dear worldbytes members,
>> The Health Equity and Law Clinic of the University of Toronto wrote
>> the following letter for Google on behalf of Women on Waves.
>> It concerns the recent Google policy to restrict adds for abortion
>> related information and services in certain countries.
>> We are looking for reproductive right organizations who would like to
>> co-sign the letter in order to increase the impact of the letter to
>> If you would like to sign, please email me your name, organization
>> and country
>> Thanks a lot
>> Rebecca Gomperts
>> On behalf of Women on Waves
>> June 24, 2009
>> Google Inc. Legal Department
>> 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
>> Mountain View, CA 94043
>> Google AdWords, Google Ann Arbor
>> 201 S. Division St., Suite 500
>> Ann Arbor, MI 48104
>> To: The Google AdWords Team and the Google Inc. Legal Department
>> *Re: Google AdWords Advertising Policy Update: Restricting
>> Advertisements that Promote Abortion Services
>> We are writing on behalf of Women on Waves (“WOW”), a non-profit
>> organization providing health services and sexual education to
>> prevent unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortions, and the Health
>> Equity and Law Clinic, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, an
>> academic clinic specializing in reproductive and sexual health law
>> and policy. This letter concerns a change to Google Adwords policy
>> respecting the advertising of abortion services.
>> On September 17, 2008, WOW received notice of a /Google AdWords
>> Advertising Policy Update/ (“Revised Policy”).[ii][i] Under
>> the /Revised Policy/, Google AdWords will:
>> no longer accept ads that promote abortion services and that target
>> any of the following countries: Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany,
>> Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Philippines,
>> Poland, Singapore, Spain, or Taiwan. 'Abortion services' include, but
>> are not limited to, abortion clinics and abortion counselors.
>> While we acknowledge much consideration was given to your decision on
>> the advertising of abortion services and the potential effect of
>> the /Revised Policy/, we request the policy be reviewed for the
>> following reasons:
>> 1. The effects of the /Revised Policy/ for persons other than
>> Adwords advertisers. We are concerned about the adverse effect of
>> the /Revised Policy/ for women seeking safe and lawful abortion
>> services. By restricting access to information,
>> the /Revised/ /Policy/ may contribute to unsafe abortion in a manner
>> inconsistent with human rights principles.
>> 2. The justification for the /Revised Policy/. We understand that
>> Google may refuse or terminate any advertisement at any time and for
>> any reason. Given the adverse impact of the /Revised Policy/ on human
>> rights to safe abortion, a reasoned justification in this instance is
>> warranted but lacking.
>> We believe these reasons merit the rescission of the /Revised Policy/.
>> Google plays an important role in the protection of human rights.
>> Through participation in the /Global Network Initiative/ and other
>> programs, Google has demonstrated its commitment to protect access to
>> information as a human right consistent with internationally
>> recognized laws and standards. These include the human rights
>> outlined in the /International Covenant on Economic, Social and
>> Cultural Rights*[iii]*[ii]/ among other international treaties.
>> Given the impact of the /Revised Policy/ on human rights to safe
>> abortion, we respectfully request the policy be reviewed and
>> rescinded. If following your review, Google decides there are reasons
>> to maintain the /Revised Policy/ we request these reasons be publicly
>> disclosed. Justification for the /Revised Policy/ avoids an adverse
>> inference that Google is acting without concern for the human rights
>> impact of its policies.
>> *1. The Adverse Impact of the /Revised Policy/ on Human Rights to
>> Safe Abortion
>> We are concerned about the adverse effect of the /Revised Policy/ for
>> women seeking safe and lawful abortion services. By restricting
>> access to information, the /Revised/ /Policy/ may contribute to
>> unsafe abortion in a manner inconsistent with internationally
>> recognized human rights.
>> Unsafe abortion is a major cause of maternal mortality and morbidity
>> worldwide. Every year an estimated seventy thousand women die and
>> five million more women suffer with disability from unsafe
>> abortion.[iv][iii] Many women who resort to unsafe abortion live in
>> countries where abortion is lawful under certain conditions, such as
>> where necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman or to protect
>> her physical and mental health. Women resort to unsafe abortion
>> because they cannot access safe services to which they are lawfully
>> entitled within the health system.[v][iv] Unsafe abortion is a
>> consequence of access barriers to safe and lawful services.
>> Access to health services without discrimination is an essential
>> component of the rights to health and equality under international
>> law.[vi][v] Women’s right to health includes an entitlement to access
>> services specific to their health needs. It is discriminatory under
>> international law to restrict the promotion or provision of
>> appropriate health services for women, including those related to
>> reproductive health, and to obstruct action taken by women in pursuit
>> of their health goals.[vii][vi] Given the /Revised Policy/ restricts
>> advertising on abortion services, sex-specific health care, its
>> adverse impact is borne exclusively by women thereby raising equality
>> Access to information – the right to seek, receive and impart
>> information on health issues – is a key determinant of access to
>> health care.[viii][vii] This is especially true respecting access to
>> abortion services. Many women seek unsafe abortion because they lack
>> access to information on the legal status of abortion and the
>> availability of services.
>> Women and health providers in many countries are uninformed about the
>> legal status of abortion, the conditions under which it is
>> lawful.[ix][viii] Many wrongly believe that abortion is prohibited
>> by criminal law in all circumstances. Despite satisfying the
>> conditions for lawful abortion, women are unfairly denied services
>> and/or seek unsafe services in clandestine settings.[x][ix]
>> The stigmatization of abortion, attributable in part to its criminal
>> regulation, also deters women from inquiring about the availability
>> of services. Women may be reluctant to request services for fear of
>> health provider judgment or refusal, and public disclosure and
>> retribution from families and communities. Many women for this reason
>> do not consult their regular health providers and seek care outside
>> their communities. They are without traditional sources of health
>> information. Recognizing the vulnerability of women seeking
>> inter-jurisdictional access to abortion services, the European Court
>> of Human Rights has emphasized the right to impart and receive
>> information on abortion services as essential to ensuring women’s
>> health and well-being.^[xi][x]
>> Advertisements on abortion services can be a valuable source of
>> information on both the legal status of abortion and the availability
>> of services, and thus a crucial measure to mitigate access barriers
>> to safe and lawful abortion. International law recognizes
>> advertisements as a protected media for the exchange of
>> The United States Supreme Court, in holding a law that restricted
>> advertisements promoting abortion services as unconstitutional,
>> recognized that such advertisements contained factual material of
>> public interest.[xiii][xii] The advertisement did not merely inform
>> readers of available commercial services, valuable information
>> itself. Viewed in its entirety, the advertisement conveyed
>> information about the subject matter including the law on abortion.
>> The mere existence of the services, the possibility that the
>> advertiser was typical of other organizations and the availability of
>> the services, was important information. Recent reform in the United
>> Kingdom on television advertisement of abortion services was
>> similarly motivated by the public health need for access to full and
>> complete information on abortion services.[xiv][xiii]
>> The internet is a primary health information source. It is of
>> particular importance to individuals who lack access to traditional
>> sources of health information, require confidential and timely access
>> to information and seek services outside of their communities. Online
>> advertisements that promote abortion services can improve access to
>> information on the legal status of abortion and the availability of
>> lawful services, and can thereby reduce recourse to unsafe abortion.
>> Vehicles such as a /Google Adwords/ moreover increase the credibility
>> of information sources, defined in terms of their expertise and
>> trustworthiness. The service facilitates access to relevant
>> information by isolating the advertisement and the availability of
>> services from a string of search engine results, which in the case of
>> a political and social issue such as abortion may be overwhelming for
>> an individual woman seeking services.[xv][xiv]
>> By restricting access to information on safe and lawful abortion,
>> the /Revised Policy/ may thus contribute to unsafe abortion in a
>> manner inconsistent with human rights under international law.
>> *2. Justification for the Revised Policy and its Adverse Human
>> Rights Impact
>> Given the human rights impact of the /Revised Policy/, we believe
>> that a reasoned justification for the policy is warranted. Google’s
>> decision on the advertising of abortion services may have been
>> informed by the following considerations:
>> A. the criminal regulation of abortion,
>> B. abortion as a high-risk health service,
>> C. legal restrictions on the advertisement or promotion of
>> abortion services, and
>> D. government or other political pressure.
>> Careful analysis demonstrates these considerations cannot justify
>> the /Revised Policy/ and its adverse human rights impact.
>> _A. The Criminal Regulation of Abortion
>> The /Revised Policy/ may have been informed by the criminal
>> regulation of abortion in the target countries, and the concern that
>> acceptance of advertisements promoting abortion services may be
>> construed as promotion or the aiding and abetting of criminal activity.
>> Rather than illicit activity, counseling and information about
>> abortion services, even where criminally restricted, is regarded as
>> an important component of harm reduction and safe abortion
>> initiatives. The Ministry of Health in Uruguay, for example, has
>> enacted guidelines that allow health providers to provide information
>> and counseling about abortion to women ineligible to receive lawful
>> More importantly, in all target countries of the /Revised
>> Policy/ abortion services are lawful under certain
>> conditions.[xvii][xvi] A blanket restriction on advertisements that
>> promote abortion services for reason of their criminal status is
>> therefore unjustified. Women are entitled by law to access abortion
>> services albeit under a set of regulated conditions. The target
>> countries in this respect cannot be distinguished from the many
>> countries, such as the United Kingdom, to which the /Revised
>> Policy/ does not extend. Abortion is a lawful and legitimate health
>> service in all of the target countries.
>> _B. Abortion as a High-Risk Health Service
>> The /Revised Policy/ may have been informed by evidence of maternal
>> mortality and morbidity related to unsafe abortion, and thus concern
>> about accepting advertisements that promote a high-risk health
>> service. It is necessary, however, to distinguish between unsafe and
>> safe abortion.
>> Unsafe abortion is defined as the termination of pregnancy by
>> individuals without the necessary skills or in an environment that
>> does not conform to minimum medical standards, or both.[xviii][xvii]
>> When appropriately regulated and provided by skilled persons under
>> conditions that meet medical standards, abortion is a safe, low-risk
>> procedure, safer than pregnancy and childbirth.[xix][xviii]
>> The /Revised Policy/ may have been directed to particular concerns
>> about online abortion services, the sale of abortifacients or
>> medicines for use in pregnancy termination. As a non-invasive
>> alternative to surgical abortion, medication abortion is widely
>> regarded as having significantly improved access to safe abortion. It
>> is safe and effective, with few serious complications and success
>> rates of 95–98%.[xx][xix]
>> Medication abortion, moreover, is an especially important innovation
>> for safe abortion because it may be delivered by a more diverse set
>> of providers in a range of health settings. Research demonstrates
>> that outcomes of services provided through telemedicine (provision of
>> medicines, counseling and information through the internet) are
>> comparable with results reported in studies on medication abortion in
>> outpatient settings.[xxi][xx]
>> A restriction on advertisements that promote abortion services for
>> reason of safety is therefore unjustified. The /Revised Policy/ is
>> over-inclusive insofar as it restricts access to information on safe
>> health services. It is also under-inclusive. Safety concerns about
>> the online sale of medicines is not limited to abortion services, but
>> of equal relevance to all health services. Ensuring the safe
>> provision and use of online health services is a legitimate concern,
>> and we encourage Google to develop a tailored policy directed to this
>> _C. Legal Restrictions on the Advertisement or Promotion of Abortion
>> The /Revised Policy/ may have been implemented because of domestic
>> laws or policies respecting the advertisement of abortion services in
>> the target countries. Some (e.g. Brazil and France) but not all
>> target countries have laws specific to the advertisement of abortion
>> services. No target country, however, absolutely prohibits the
>> advertisement of abortion services. Advertisements are permissible in
>> Brazil, for example, where the conditions under which abortion is
>> lawful are appropriately indicated.[xxii][xxi] This policy recognizes
>> that under certain conditions abortion services are lawful and should
>> be treated without distinction from other health services. Rather
>> than an absolute prohibition against advertisements that promote
>> abortion services, the/Revised Policy/ should reflect a similar
>> flexible standard. The /Revised Policy/ in this respect is
>> inconsistent with Google Adwords’ general policy on advertisements
>> subject to legal regulation, which states that it is the
>> responsibility of the advertiser to ensure that its advertisements
>> are in full compliance with the applicable domestic law.[xxiii][xxii]
>> There is no clear reason why the same approach cannot be applied to
>> abortion service advertisements, which may be subject to different
>> legal regulation across jurisdictions.
>> _D. Government or other Political Pressure
>> The /Revised Policy/ may have been informed by government policies
>> that abortion, even when lawful, should not be promoted as a health
>> service. Such policies are often based on the mistaken assumption
>> that greater access to information and services will increase
>> abortion rates. Evidence confirms that increased access to safe and
>> lawful abortion does not increase the number of abortions nor lead
>> women to use abortion as an alternative to contraception for family
>> planning. Rather it ensures that a greater number of abortions are
>> safe abortions.[xxiv][xxiii]
>> Such policies are more importantly inconsistent with human rights
>> principles. Individuals should not be denied access to information as
>> a measure to change health-seeking behaviour. Women are entitled as
>> of right to information about all safe and lawful health services,
>> including those related to reproductive and sexual health. We believe
>> that Google shares this conception of access to information as a
>> fundamental human right.
>> The lack of reasoned justification for the /Revised Policy/ given its
>> impact on human rights to safe abortion merits its rescission. We
>> thus respectfully request in light of Google’s demonstrated
>> commitment to protect access to information as a human right that
>> the /Revised Policy/ be reviewed and rescinded. If Google decides
>> there are reasons not addressed in this letter to maintain
>> the /Revised Policy,/ we would appreciate your sharing these reasons
>> with us.
>> We look forward to your response and appreciate your time and
>> Rebecca Gomperts
>> gomperts at womenonwaves.org <mailto:gomperts at womenonwaves.org>
>> Women on Waves Foundation
>> P.O. Box 15683, 1001 ND Amsterdam, The Netherlands
>> Phone: +31 20 465 0004, Fax: +31 20 465 0004
>> Joanna Erdman
>> joanna.erdman at utoronto.ca <mailto:joanna.erdman at utoronto.ca>
>> Susan Newell
>> susan.newell at utoronto.ca <mailto:susan.newell at utoronto.ca>
>> Health Equity and Law Clinic
>> Faculty of Law, University of Toronto
>> 78 Queen’s Park, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5
>> Phone: 416-946-3755, Fax: 416-978-2648
>> *The undersigned organizations support this letter and its request
>> that the /Revised Policy/ be reviewed and rescinded.
>> 1. Name, Organization, Contact Info
>> 2. Name, Organization, Contact Info
>> [i][i] Email Communication from The Google AdWords Team to Women on
>> Waves (September 17, 2008) (on file).
>> [ii][i] Email Communication from The Google AdWords Team to Women on
>> Waves (September 17, 2008) (on file).
>> [iii][ii] /International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
>> Rights/, Dec. 16, 1966, 993 U.N.T.S. 3, (/entered into force /Jan. 3,
>> [iv][iii] World Health Organization (WHO). /Unsafe abortion: global
>> and regional estimates of the incidence of unsafe abortion and
>> associated mortality in 2003. /(Geneva: WHO, 2007).
>> [v][iv] WHO. /Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health
>> Systems. /82 (Geneva: WHO, 2003). See Concluding Observations of U.N.
>> bodies that monitor compliance with international human rights
>> conventions, e.g. /Concluding Observations of the Committee on the
>> Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Colombia, /CEDAW, UN
>> Doc. CEDAW/C/COL/CO/6 (2007): While noting the decriminalization of
>> abortion under certain conditions, the Committee remained “concerned
>> that, in practice, women may not have access to legal abortion
>> services” (para. 22); /Concluding Observations of the Committee on
>> the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Saint Lucia/, CEDAW,
>> UN GAOR, 61st sess., supp. no. 38 (A/61/38) part II (2006) 114: While
>> welcoming legal reform that permits abortion under certain
>> circumstances, “[t]he Committee notes with concern the persistence of
>> unsafe abortions in the country. It also notes with concern that no
>> information was provided about measures to provide safe abortion
>> services where those are permitted by law” (paras. 154, 181).
>> [vi][v] U.N. Comm. on Econ., Soc. and Cultural Rights, /General
>> Comment No. 14. The Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of
>> Health/, UN doc E/C.12/2000/4 at para. 12 (Aug. 11, 2000).
>> [vii][vi] U.N. Comm. on the Elimination of all Forms of
>> Discrimination against Women, /General Recommendation No. 24: Women
>> and Health/, UN Doc. A/54/38/Rev.1 at paras. 11, 14, 23 (1999)
>> [viii][vii] /Supra/ note 5.
>> [ix][viii] See e.g. Chelsea Morroni, Landon Myer & Kemilembe
>> Tibazarwa. “Knowledge of the abortion legislation among South African
>> women: a cross-sectional study” (2006) 3 /Reproductive Health/ 7;
>> Lisa A Goldman, Sandra G García, Juan Díaz & Eileen A Yam, “Brazilian
>> obstetrician-gynecologists and abortion: a survey of knowledge,
>> opinions and practices” (2005) 2/Reproductive Health/ 10; Davida
>> Becker, Sandra G. Garcia & Ulla Larsen “Knowledge and Opinions about
>> Abortion Law among Mexican Youth” (2002) 28(4) /International Family
>> Planning Perspectives/ 205-213.
>> [x][ix] /See Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee:
>> Argentina, /HRC, UN Doc. CCPR/CO/70/ARG (2000): “[T]he Committee is
>> concerned that the criminalization of abortion deters medical
>> professionals from providing this procedure without judicial order,
>> even when they are permitted to do so by law” (para. 14).
>> [xi][x] /Open Door Counselling and Dublin Well Woman v.
>> Ireland/  15 EHRR 244.
>> [xii][xi] /International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights/, 16
>> December 1966, GA Res. 2200A (XX1), art. 19.
>> [xiii][xii] /Bigelow v. Virginia/, 421 U.S. 809 (1975).
>> [xiv][xiii] U.K., Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP)
>> and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), /The BCAP Code Review:
>> Consultation on the Proposed BCAP Advertising Standards Code/ (2009).
>> [xv][xiv] See Mike Benigeri & Pierre Pluye, “Shortcomings of health
>> information on the Internet” (2003) 18 /Health Promotion
>> International/ 381. Article analyzes the rising number of Internet
>> sites providing medical information and services and the lack of
>> available assistance in sorting through this information. See also:
>> Berland et al., “Health Information on the Internet: Accessibility,
>> Quality and Readability in English and Spanish” (2001) 285 /JAMA/ 2612.
>> [xvi][xv] Uruguay, /Ordenanza/ 369/04, 6 de agosto del ano 2004.
>> [xvii][xvi] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social
>> Affairs, Population Division. /World Abortion Policies 2007./ (New
>> York, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs,
>> Population Division, 2007).
>> [xviii][xvii] WHO. /The prevention and management of unsafe abortion.
>> Report of a Technical Working Group. /3 (Geneva: WHO, 1993).
>> [xix][xviii] D. Grimes et al. “Unsafe abortion: the preventable
>> pandemic” (2006) 368 /Lancet /1908-19, 1908.
>> [xx][xix] C. Fiala & K. Gemzell-Danielsson. “Review of medical
>> abortion using mifepristone in combination with a prostaglandin
>> analogue.” (2006) 74 /Contraception/ 66–86.
>> [xxi][xx] R.J. Gomperts et al. “Using telemedicine for termination of
>> pregnancy with mifepristone and misoprostol in settings where there
>> is no access to safe services” (2008) 115 /BJOG: An International
>> Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology/ 1171-5.
>> [xxii][xxi] Sandra Coliver, Article 19 International Centre Against
>> Censorship, /The Right to Know: Human Rights and Reproductive Health
>> Information/ (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995).
>> [xxiii][xxii] Google AdWords, “Advertising Policies” (2009).
>> [xxiv][xxiii] G. Sedgh et al. “Induced abortion: estimated rates and
>> trends worldwide” (2007) 370 /The Lancet/ 1338-1345.
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