Influence of abortion disinformation and misinformation on health trends of women of color


Photo by Fausto Sandoval via UnsplashSince the repeal of Roe v. Wade, thousands of clinicians and advocates who support abortion access have been playing defense on two critical fronts. Not only do they have to make sense of confusing state laws that limit necessary reproductive health care, but they also must counter false claims about abortion that some worry may lead to a higher maternal mortality rate.

Inaccurate medical information about abortion has been circulating for decades. But researchers and physicians who support and study abortion access argue that the stakes are higher now, in part because correct and incorrect content is readily available through physical and digital sources. And because there’s so much out there, experts argue it may be hard for some people to identify materials grounded in science. 

Lupe M. Rodríguez, executive director of advocacy organization National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, said that anti-abortion groups have targeted Hispanic women in their disinformation campaigns for several years. Because many Hispanic women aren’t insured or aren’t familiar with the health care system, Rodríguez stated they may be easily swayed to seek care at establishments called crisis pregnancy centers. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said these facilities sell themselves as health care clinics, but their intent is to persuade women from taking contraception and receiving abortions. 

“I think since the fall of Roe v. Wade, we’ve obviously seen that with an even narrower pool of clinics and health centers where people can get care, these kinds of centers have increased their outreach,” Rodríguez said. 

Access to trustworthy health information is a matter of equity, and abortion disinformation and misinformation should be part of stories about the implications of reproductive health restrictions. In addition, news articles should include context by population groups because some women of color — particularly Black, Indigenous and Alaska Native mothers — are at a higher risk of dying of pregnancy-related reasons

Those may be among the reasons why academics, clinicians and investigators at advocacy organizations who support abortion access are studying how accessing and sharing misleading material about abortion affects the health of American women of color. In a recent analysis of abortion misinformation, the authors argued that Americans of color may be affected most by the onslaught of those materials, in part because they have “lower health literacy, less access to evidence-based health information, and less trust in health care providers resulting from a long legacy of systemic racism in health care.”

KFF Health News researchers are among those who are taking a closer look at how misinformation impacts reproductive health, COVID-19, firearms and other topics. In a news release published last month, the organization said their work would place “particular emphasis on communities that are most adversely affected by misinformation, such as people of color, immigrants and rural communities.” The poll included questions about birth control use and sex education. 

Some experts are researching disinformation and misinformation trends in population groups. Researchers involved in a Nielsen report that looked at media use in Hispanic Americans observed that 28% of news sites where they represented at least 20% of the audience had “content flagged as mixed, biased, extremely biased, conspiracy, or pseudoscience.” 

In May 2022, NARAL Pro-Choice America published an analysis of Spanish-language news coverage and messages shared by anti-choice activists and Facebook groups. In the report about that project, the researchers said: 

  • Outlets that regularly published articles with high levels of audience engagement tended to be affiliated with religious groups.
  • Anti-choice advocates and Facebook groups promoted the same false messages  shared by organizations who do it in English, including that having an abortion increases the risk of developing breast cancer and depression.
  • Many pages shared “demonstrably false claims about the safety of abortion.”
  • Anti-choice activists and Facebook groups spread content that demonized abortion providers and supported legislation to define when life begins.

Academic and marketing researchers are studying the relationship between social media use and the spread of untruthful content. For example, the Nielsen report states that Hispanic people are “particularly vulnerable” to sharing intentionally inaccurate or misleading information “due to a greater reliance on social media and messaging platforms.” In this review about the spread of false COVID-19 claims among Black people around the world, the scientists observed that they “are accessing and often sharing online disinformation and misinformation primarily through social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.”

Rodríguez, whose experience in reproductive justice advocacy includes working for an organization in Mexico, said journalists should be paying more attention to abortion falsehoods being disseminated in languages other than English. She also argued that social media platforms should be stepping up efforts to remove false information in Spanish.

“I think what’s really concerning to us is that a lot of these kind of peer-to-peer messages— again, the ones that are not necessarily coming from some of these [crisis pregnancy] centers — are proliferating on social media and messaging platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp, which we know are used in high numbers by a lot of Latin community members,” Rodríguez said.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Margarita Martín-Hidalgo Birnbaum

Margarita Birnbaum is AHCJ’s health beat leader on health equity and an independent journalist who has covered health disparities. Fluent in English and Spanish, Birnbaum is also an interpreter and translator.