Latinas have long been targeted by abortion misinformation. It's getting worse, experts say.

Latinas have long been targeted by abortion misinformation. It's getting worse, experts say.

In May, Christina Soliz found out she was pregnant with her first child. Like many expecting women, the internet became her best friend. 

The 31-year-old Denver resident went to Google, YouTube, Facebook groups and WhatsApp to absorb all the information she could.

“I was tied to my phone Googling all kinds of questions,” said Soliz, who learned of her pregnancy the day the Supreme Court’s opinion on abortion rights was leaked.

But she found it difficult to discern fact from misinformation online, even though she’s political director of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), an abortion-rights nonprofit. 

Soliz is not alone. Experts say the Latino community has been targeted by false information about abortion and pregnancy. Intended to discourage abortions, such focused misinformation is not new but experts say it has increased since the Supreme Court’s June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade – the 1973 landmark case that constitutionally established the right to abortion in the U.S.

The few anti-abortion organizations who responded to USA TODAY’s request for comment said their websites contain accurate information and are not targeting Latino communities, but health experts and abortion-rights advocates disagree. 

“These anti-abortion campaigns … are purposefully manipulating very vulnerable communities, those who are already disproportionately marginalized from accessing any form of health care,” said Aurea Bolaños Perea, strategic communications director at COLOR.

WHERE ARE PROGRESSIVE MEN?Conservative men dominate the politics of abortion access

Abortion misinformation: What’s out there 

Misinformation campaigns targeting Latino communities are ramping up ahead of midterm elections, taking advantage of the uncertainty created by the Dobbs decision, abortion-rights advocates say.

Some believe the Supreme Court’s ruling banned abortion everywhere in the United States, said Elizabeth Estrada, New York field and advocacy manager at National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice. In reality, the ruling held that Americans no longer have a constitutional right to abortion and restrictions vary by state. 

“What I’ve seen is a deeper sense of confusion – even in New York where it’s considered to be a destination state for abortion,” she said. 

Anti-abortion advocates also are capitalizing on the moment to push old ads with false claims, Bolaños Perea said. The most prevalent include misinformation and disinformation about fetal development. 

Dr. Deborah Bartz, an OB-GYN at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said pamphlets used by anti-abortion sites and crisis pregnancy centers depict photos of fetuses that are further along in the pregnancy than what the text suggests.

“These images are emotionally charged, and by putting them on these pamphlets they’re forcing the patient to assign personhood to a pregnancy that she isn’t thinking of in that way,” she said. “It’s very manipulative.”

Many anti-abortion sites also claim abortion is risky, but experts say both surgical and medication abortions are safe, and related complications are rare. In fact, experts argue in some instances carrying a baby to full term may be riskier than an abortion.

“When an individual gets pregnant, they automatically put themselves in a higher risk category,” Bartz said. “A patient who is pregnant is automatically at greater risk than a person who is not pregnant.”

Other misleading sites warn against “post-abortion syndrome,” a fabricated form of depression, and promote “abortion reversals.” Previous research confirms women who have abortions are not at a higher risk of mental health issues compared to those who carry out an unwanted pregnancy, and abortions cannot be reversed. 

Why Latinas are vulnerable 

Research shows the Latino community lacks equitable access to health care and faces poorer health outcomes, and limiting their access to abortion care could increase that risk, health experts say.

Latinos are nearly three times more likely to be uninsured than their non-Hispanic white peers, according to the Brookings Institute, a public policy nonprofit in Washington, D.C.

“Patients who have a hard time getting into the health care system … they have worse health care outcomes at baseline and they are very much a group that is easy to target,” Bartz said.

Language also may be an obstacle to equitable health care, experts say. The Brookings Institute reports nearly a third of Latinos living in the United States are not fluent in English.

“For patients who don’t have English as their primary language, those navigation pathways become exceedingly hard and it makes those patients vulnerable to finding themselves in spaces they don’t even realize where they’re receiving misinformation,” Bartz said.

YOUNG PEOPLE ARE MAD.  But will they vote in midterms?

Misinformation campaigns target Latinas with sponsored Spanish ads, which appear at the top of search engines and offer services like free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and sometimes diapers and baby formula, Bolaños Perea said.

Google said it recently updated disclosure messages that appear underneath a sponsored ad specifying if a facility offers abortions, according to a company statement sent to USA TODAY.

The disclosures are “a step in the right direction,” Estrada said, but Latinas are still misdirected when using other terms to search for more information about their pregnancy and options. Misinformation campaigns succeed by delaying care until abortion may no longer be an option for patients in restrictive states. 

Delaying any kind of care can be dangerous in this population, health experts say. A new report shows pregnant Latina women have faced a significant surge in deaths in recent years. In 2019 and 2020, between 12 and 18 out of 100,000 Latina women died during pregnancy. Last year that figure jumped to 28 per 100,000.

“All these targeted ads and messaging are being funneled into these communities that are already disproportionately being impacted economically and socio-politically,” Bolaños Perea said. “These disinformation campaigns are going to be a major cause of this public health crisis.”

ABORTION AND LGBTQ PROTECTIONS:Abortion bans and LGBTQ-targeted laws are catching some school campuses in the crosshairs

Why battling misinformation is challenging 

Abortion rights activists have been battling against abortion misinformation for decades but say they’re struggling to keep up now as they face acute challenges brought about by the recent Supreme Court decision.

Dormant trigger laws restricting or banning abortion immediately took effect in many conservative states across the country. Now, Estrada said, most of her organization’s resources are devoted to challenging those laws or helping women seek abortion care across state lines.

“Our most urgent and most needed strategy is getting folks the care they need, especially if they’re coming from restrictive states,” she said. “Post-Roe, everybody is just running around in this fire of urgency and we’re all just a little bit burned out.”

Planned Parenthood offers medical information in Spanish on their website, including a Spanish blog with an ongoing series about abortion and a chat function that allows users to ask experts questions in real time.

Julia Bennett, the organization’s senior director of digital education and learning strategy, said tech companies should make more of an effort to interrupt the flow of misinformation on their platforms.

“The onus should not be on individual people to know how to tell the difference between good and bad information – particularly when anti-abortion groups put so much effort and resources into pretending to offer real information,” she said in a statement to USA TODAY.

It’s also important to dispel myths and misinformation on platforms where Latinos get their news, Estrada said. Spanish-language media should be educating their audience on abortion laws in their state.

But one of the most important and enduring ways to dispel misinformation within the community is to have conversations with family members, said Dr. Melissa Simon, an OB-GYN at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago.

“It takes literally a village to try to stamp out this disinformation,” she said, “because it’s so deeply rooted in so many places and it’s hard to avoid.”

Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT. 

Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

07fea223 d0d8 4bfe 8b58 981708e98907 062422 Roe v. Wade 01 - Latinas have long been targeted by abortion misinformation. It's getting worse, experts say.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login