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USA: Social media companies' removal of abortion-related content may hinder access to abortion care - New Research

Protester holds placard saying 'Abortion is a human rights' in Washington DC

Since overturning of Roe v Wade, social media companies including Instagram and TikTok have restricted information on abortion access

Lack of transparency over content removal decisions can contribute to increased challenges in accessing abortion care

‘Everybody has the right to access unbiased and medically accurate information on abortion, and tech companies have a responsibility to respect human rights’ - Jane Eklund

Major social media companies including Facebook, Instagram and TikTok may be failing to respect international human rights standards by removing abortion-related content - including information on how to access abortion care - on their platforms, according to new research from Amnesty International.

Amnesty’s briefing - Obstacles to Autonomy: Post-Roe Removal of Abortion Information Online - reveals how, since the 2022 US Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade, social media companies have been removing abortion-related content on their platforms without providing sufficient information and transparency regarding their reasons for doing it. Removing this information can contribute to the increasing challenges in accessing abortion care, it can threaten the right to health and bodily autonomy, and can be particularly harmful to young people, Amnesty has warned.

Jane Eklund, Amnesty International USA’s Tech and Reproductive Rights Fellow, said:

“When tech companies remove abortion-related information, they can intensify barriers to accessing information and lead to discrimination and human rights violations against people who can become pregnant.  

“Access to accurate and unbiased information about abortion is an essential part of reproductive healthcare, and tech companies must do better to ensure their users can access that information.

“Everybody has the right to access unbiased and medically accurate information on abortion, and tech companies have a responsibility to respect human rights and should not limit users’ access to such content posted on their platforms.”  

Misrepresentation and restriction

Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, more than 20 states have imposed restrictions on accessing abortion, and some have introduced bills specifically to restrict access to abortion information online – to date, none have passed.

Amnesty’s research shows how some social media content about medication (non-surgical) abortions, which are safe and account for more than half of all abortions in the US, was removed, temporarily hidden, or marked as “sensitive content” which may “contain graphic or violent content” on major social media platforms. Other posts were removed because the platforms said the information shared was against their community guidelines or claimed the post was attempting to buy or sell abortion medication when it was not.

On 27 April 2023, an Instagram post by Ipas - an organisation that seeks to increase access to safe abortions and contraception - sharing the World Health Organisation’s recommended protocol on how to have a medication abortion was removed. Instagram cited its policies on the “sale of illegal or regulated goods” as the reason for the removal, even though the post did not reference the sale of medication in any way.

In 2022, as many states were rushing to ban abortions, some Planned Parenthood posts with information on where abortion was legal or restricted were blurred and marked as “sensitive content”.

Non-profit organisations such as Plan C and telehealth abortion providers like Hey Jane experienced similar content removals, and in some cases, they experienced temporary suspension of their social media accounts with little or no explanation.

More recently in 2024, the Lilith Fund, a Texas-based abortion fund that provides support to Texans travelling out of state to access abortion care, was blocked from posting a link to abortion resources by Facebook. Additionally, Mayday Health, a non-profit organisation that educates people about abortion medication and how to access it, had their Instagram account temporarily suspended without warning.

TikTok and Meta failing to inform users how abortion-related content is moderated

TikTok and Meta’s publicly available community guidelines and content moderation policies fail to adequately inform users of how abortion-related content is moderated. According to these guidelines, TikTok allows “abortion discussed in a medical or scientific context related to procedures, surgeries, or examinations” (with no reference to other types of abortion-related content), and Meta does not explicitly mention abortion in any of its Community Standards.

Amnesty requested further information from Meta and TikTok. In response, Meta said it recognises the right to health and allows organic content educating users about medication abortion. It also allows content offering guidance on legal access to pharmaceuticals on its platforms, but prohibits “attempts to buy, sell, trade, donate, gift or ask for pharmaceutical drugs."

TikTok said its policies do not prohibit or suppress topics such as reproductive health and abortion content, including access to information but it “prohibits content including medical misinformation."

Jane Eklund added:

“The responses from the companies do not line up with what appears to be happening on their platforms.

“Vague responses aren’t enough. Companies need to take transparent steps to ensure that their users are able to access abortion-related information on their platforms, and that members of civil society are given adequate explanation for any content that is removed.”

Urgent change needed

Meta and TikTok should be more transparent about how their community guidelines apply to abortion content. They should also improve transparency on the use of recommendation systems and content moderation algorithms.

Additionally, they should proactively identify, prevent, and address any harms arising from their content moderation and the potential suppression of abortion-related content.

The questions and the companies’ full responses are included in the briefing.

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