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An image of a woman holding a cellphone in front of a Facebook logo is displayed on a computer screen on January 12, 2021. (Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Rights Groups Tell Zuckerberg to Stop 'Dangerous Censorship' of Abortion Content

"Meta's censorship of information on abortion and reproductive health is jeopardizing the safety and human rights of millions across the U.S."

Jake Johnson

A coalition of civil society organizations on Wednesday demanded that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg put a halt to censorship of abortion rights content on his company's platforms following reports that Facebook and Instagram have been removing posts aimed at helping pregnant people access reproductive care in U.S. states where it is heavily restricted.

"Meta has demonstrated that it has no policy in place to defend peoples' right to abortion on its platforms."

In a letter to Zuckerberg, the groups argue that Meta may be violating its "responsibility to respect human rights" by censoring information on reproductive health and rights, the treatment of which contrasts with Facebook's lax regulation of climate and election lies.

"Actions that unduly restrict the right to freedom of expression on this topic, including the right to seek, receive, and impart information related to sexual and reproductive health and rights, would contravene Meta's responsibility to respect human rights," reads the letter, which was signed by Access Now, Amnesty International USA, Fight for the Future, Human Rights Watch, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

"Numerous media organizations have reported that Meta-owned platforms Facebook and Instagram have taken down posts explaining how to access abortion pills," the groups write. "Media reports also indicate that Instagram is censoring searches for hashtags referencing terms such as 'abortion pills' and 'mifepristone,' stating that such posts are 'hidden because some posts may not follow Instagram's Community Guidelines.'"

In late June, days after the U.S. Supreme Court's right-wing majority overturned Roe v. Wade and imperiled abortion access across the country, the Associated Press reported that Facebook and Instagram started "promptly removing posts that offer abortion pills to women who may not be able to access them" as people turned to the internet for information on how to access care in the face of fresh bans.

As the outlet noted:

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.

The platform's handling of such posts has drawn scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers.

Last month, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) sent a letter to Zuckerberg raising alarm about the AP reporting and arguing that "it is more important than ever that social media platforms not censor truthful posts about abortion, particularly as people across the country turn to online communities to discuss and find information about reproductive rights."

Jennifer Brody, U.S. policy and advocacy manager at Access Now, echoed that message in a statement on Wednesday.

"Meta's censorship of information on abortion and reproductive health is jeopardizing the safety and human rights of millions across the U.S.," said Brody. "People need the power and knowledge to make informed decisions about their bodies and their lives—Meta must decide now if it will be on the right side of history."

Facebook has said its content guidelines prohibit "content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, gift, request, or donate pharmaceuticals," but posts related to "the affordability and accessibility of prescription medication" are allowed.

"We've discovered some instances of incorrect enforcement and are correcting these," Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone wrote on Twitter in late June.

But the civil society coalition argued in its letter Wednesday that Facebook and Instagram's responses to censorship reports in the post-Roe U.S. have been woefully inadequate thus far. The groups called on Meta to release data on how many posts related to reproductive rights that it has censored.

"Meta has demonstrated that it has no policy in place to defend peoples' right to abortion on its platforms," said Caitlin Seeley George, director of campaigns at Fight for the Future. "Time and again, the company has deflected the question, but users of Facebook and Instagram have the right to know whether or not the company is going to defend their human rights or if it plans to roll over under the current, anti-abortion regime."

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