Google AdWords Policy Disallows Ads for Abortion Services in Over a Dozen Countries

Last night, a Google spokeswoman confirmed that Google AdWords, the advertising network that allows advertisers to create ads that appear next to relevant search results, updated its policy in September of 2008. Among other policy changes, AdWords now prohibits ads for abortion services of any kind in over a dozen countries, including Brazil, France, Mexico, Poland, and Taiwan. Never thought I’d be taking sides in the war of the search engines, but is looking real good right about now.

Google’s rationale behind disallowing ads in these particular countries, whose abortion laws range from conservative (Argentina, Brazil ) to more liberal by comparison (France, Italy), is shrouded in mystery: the spokeswoman deftly avoided answering my question about how the countries were chosen.

Regardless of the reason, I’m pretty disturbed by Google’s ability to withhold information about reproductive health services in these countries without justification or accountability. Call me crazy, but it seems to me that women living in the countries in question should be granted the same access to reproductive health services as women in other parts of the world. If you agree, call or email Google today and let them know they have some ‘splaining to do. For sample text of an email you can send, visit the Action Alert on the International Women’s Health Coalition’s blog Akimbo.
And in case you’re still as incredulous as I was when I first heard about this, please read the unedited email exchange I had with a Google representative yesterday regarding the official policy after the jump.

From: [redacted]
Sent: Tuesday, June 30, 2009 12:54 PM
To: Lori Adelman
Subject: Re: Your recently changed abortion ad policy
Hi Lori,
I just heard back from the policy team, and have the below information for you.
The Google AdWords advertising program is managed by a set of policies that we develop based on various factors, including user and customer experience. Our goals are to provide more relevant results and a higher quality experience for our users, and to have policies that are fair, consistent and adaptable. We regularly review our policies and make changes to keep them current and effective, but the policy regarding ads that promote abortion services has not been changed since September 2008.
The issue of abortion is an emotive subject and Google does not take a particular side. Last September, we reviewed our abortion ads policy in order to make sure it was fair, up to date and consistent with local customs and practices. Following the review we decided to amend our policy, creating a level playing field and enabling religious associations to place ads on abortion in a factual way.
We decided to disallow ads for abortion services, such as abortion clinics, in the following markets: Germany, Poland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, France, Italy and Spain. (Emphasis mine.) However, general, factual ads on abortion continued to be allowed and we also enabled religious associations to place ads on abortion in a factual way.
Under our current policy, religious associations are able to put up ads on Google in a factual and campaigning way. This means that their ads need to aim to educate and inform, not to shock. The ads can refer to government legislation and existing law and the alternatives to abortion. But, they cannot link to Web sites which show graphic images that aim to shock people into changing their minds. In terms of campaigning, this means that the ads can link to Web sites which are taking a particular view on a piece of government legislation. But, once again, those Web sites cannot possess graphic images or language that aims to shock or blame people.
Hope this clarification helps,
Hi [redacted],
Thank you very much for this information. You’ve been extremely helpful in clarifying the policy in question. For additional clarification, can you please expand on the reasoning behind choosing those specific markets in which to disallow ads for abortion services, as described in paragraph 3 of your email? Is this policy in response to a particular law or other social characteristic particular to Germany, Poland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, France, Italy and Spain?
Thanks so much,
Hi Lori,
I can share that we conducted the review and made the change to ensure our policy was fair, up-to-date, consistent with local laws and codes of practice.
Thanks to Women on Waves for bringing the original policy to the attention of the International Women’s Health Coalition.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to serving as an Executive Director at Feministing, Lori is the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

Read more about Lori

Join the Conversation