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<nettime> Abortion services censored out on Google AdWords: Sign on the
Harsh Kapoor on Mon, 6 Jul 2009 19:33:23 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Abortion services censored out on Google AdWords: Sign on the letter to protest to Google


A siawi.org Alert
http://www.siawi.org/article825.html

According to the Health Equity and Law Clinic of the University of
Toronto, Google is stopping access to details of abortion clinics
through its web system.
 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.

This a very powerful anti-abortion gesture indeed.
 It is also an attack on secularism that reflects the lobbying power
of religious fundamentalist forces.

siawi.org calls on all secularists to join the protest and to force
Google to come back on its new policy. Please forward these news and
the appeal below to as many people as possible.

Women on Waves have taken the lead in this struggle. 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 womenonwaves.org
 with your name, organisation and contact details.

_____

From: rebecca gomperts [ mailto:gomperts 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 rights organizations who would like to
co-sign the letter in order to increase the impact of the letter to
google.

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
----------------------------------------------

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.

   1. 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
concerns.

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 information.[xii][xi]

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
services.[xvi][xv]

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
objective.

C. Legal Restrictions on the Advertisement or Promotion of Abortion Services

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 consideration.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Gomperts
 gomperts 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
 Susan Newell
 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


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