Facebook and Instagram remove posts offering abortion pills to women who need them

·4 min read
Facebook Abortion Pills (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Facebook Abortion Pills (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Facebook and Instagram have begun removing posts that offer abortion pills to women who may not be able to access.

The news follows the Supreme Court’s decision that stripped away constitutional protections for the procedure.

Roe v Wade guaranteed a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, but Justice Samuel Alito and the other members of the court gave states power to legislate abortions at a state level.

Previously, women had total autonomy to terminate a pregnancy during the first trimester, and allowed some state influence over abortions in the second and third trimesters.

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” Justice Alito wrote in a draft of an opinion dated 10 February. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives”.

There are at least 13 states with so-called “trigger laws” that have now banned abortion with Roe getting overturned. At least 26 states are likely to ban abortion quickly now that power has returned to states.

Memes and status updates explaining how women could legally obtain abortion pills in the mail exploded across social platforms. Some even offered to mail the prescriptions to women living in states that now ban the procedure.

Almost immediately, Facebook and Instagram began removing some of these posts, just as millions across the U.S. were searching for clarity around abortion access. General mentions of abortion pills, as well as posts mentioning specific versions such as mifepristone and misoprostol, suddenly spiked Friday morning across Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and TV broadcasts, according to an analysis by the media intelligence firm Zignal Labs.

By Sunday, Zignal had counted more than 250,000 such mentions.

The AP obtained a screenshot on Friday of one Instagram post from a woman who offered to purchase or forward abortion pills through the mail, minutes after the court ruled to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion.

“DM me if you want to order abortion pills, but want them sent to my address instead of yours,” the post on Instagram read.

Instagram took it down within moments. Vice Media first reported on Monday that Meta, the parent of both Facebook and Instagram, was taking down posts about abortion pills.

On Monday, an AP reporter tested how the company would respond to a similar post on Facebook, writing: “If you send me your address, I will mail you abortion pills.”

The post was removed within one minute.

The Facebook account was immediately put on a “warning” status for the post, which Facebook said violated its standards on “guns, animals and other regulated goods.”

Yet, when the AP reporter made the same exact post but swapped out the words “abortion pills” for “a gun,” the post remained untouched. A post with the same exact offer to mail “weed” was also left up and not considered a violation.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law and it is illegal to send it through the mail.

Abortion pills, however, can legally be obtained through the mail after an online consultation from prescribers who have undergone certification and training.

In an email, a Meta spokesperson pointed to company policies that prohibit the sale of certain items, including guns, alcohol, drugs and pharmaceuticals. The company did not explain the apparent discrepancies in its enforcement of that policy.

Meta spokesperson Andy Stone confirmed in a tweet Monday that the company will not allow individuals to gift or sell pharmaceuticals on its platform, but will allow content that shares information on how to access pills. Stone acknowledged some problems with enforcing that policy across its platforms, which include Facebook and Instagram.

“We’ve discovered some instances of incorrect enforcement and are correcting these,” Stone said in the tweet.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said Friday that states should not ban mifepristone, the medication used to induce an abortion.

“States may not ban mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy,” Garland said in a Friday statement.

But some Republicans have already tried to stop their residents from obtaining abortion pills through the mail, with some states like West Virginia and Tennessee prohibiting providers from prescribing the medication through telemedicine consultation.

Digital rights advocates and abortion campaigners have warned women to take action to protect their privacy online.

“Those seeking, offering, or facilitating abortion access must now assume that any data they provide online or offline could be sought by law enforcement.”, Cindy Cohn and Corynne McSherry of the Electronic Frontier Foundation write. This could be through apps, search engine requests, posts on social media.

“People should carefully review privacy settings on the services they use, turn off location services on apps that don’t need them, and use encrypted messaging services. Companies should protect users by allowing anonymous access, stopping behavioral tracking, strengthening data deletion policies, encrypting data in transit, enabling end-to-end message encryption by default, preventing location tracking, and ensuring that users get notice when their data is being sought.”

Additional reporting by Associated Press