Google reveals more stringent abortion ad rules against backdrop of Alabama bill controversy

Google is tightening up its abortion search ads policy, saying it will now require businesses that want to run ads at the top of search results relating to queries about terminations to seek certification first.

In a bid to stop deceptive advertising and the spread of misinformation, the search giant will now ask businesses to indicate whether they do or don’t provide abortions. Advertisers will then be certified into one of these two categories and ads will be signposted with full disclosures – making it easier for women to see a company's agenda before clicking on a link.

This means clinics known as crisis pregnancy centres (CPCs), which seek to deter women who enter from seeking abortions, will be highlighted as a non-provider in ad rankings.

Advertisers in the UK, US and Ireland will be impacted by the roll-out.

The updated policy comes against the backdrop of Alabama signing the US’ most restrictive anti-abortion bill into law this week.

The move has stoked controversy and outrage in the States, with Google itself coming under fire for hosting “deceptive” ads bought by anti-abortion counselling services adjacent to searches from women seeking abortions.

Google was also revealed to have awarded $150,000 in free advertising to The Obria Group, which runs a network of anti-abortion clinics funded by Catholic organisations.

Criticisms were then leveled that the company wasn't taking necessary measures to crack down on "misleading ads" from groups like Obria. However, Google said it made ad grants available to "a diverse group that represented many different views and different causes”, adding that both groups that provide abortions and those that are opposed to them are given free ad space.

Though the launch from Google is timely, The Drum understands that it has been working on the new policy for some time with a view to bringing abortion ad rules in line with those already in place for pharmaceutical companies.

Google will be working with relevant government agencies and third-party groups to verify each advertiser’s certification. Advertisers that do not apply to be certified will be blocked from running ads on keywords related to getting an abortion.

Abortion ads of any kind are already banned from appearing on display or other ad formats across Google’s network. This policy will affect search ads only.

Google has been stepping up the fight against misinformation and fake news within its walls, removing 2.3bn ads across its network last year, nearly one billion fewer "bad ads" it had to remove in 2017.

The tech giant also terminated nearly one million bad advertiser accounts, about twice as many it axed in 2017.

The business introduced 31 ad policies in 2018 in response to new scams. Some policies include banning ads from for-profit bail bond providers and higher scrutiny on ticket resellers.