As if the internet wasn’t already fertile enough ground for misinformation about abortion, new data suggests that intentionally misleading and false information has surfaced in the wake of the leaked draft Roe v. Wade in the United States.
A study conducted in May by Zignal Labs and shared with Global shows that there were 186,046 “less reliable mentions” of online abortions in the three days following the leak, from both left-wing and right-wing accounts . That’s double the number of times abortion was mentioned online in the previous month.
On TikTok, videos tagged #roevwade and #abortionban flourished, some providing unfounded advice on home abortions, with more than 200,000 likes.
While misinformation is unintentionally spread, abortion rights advocates in Canada say others have a clear agenda to deceive.
“One of the biggest barriers to abortion access in Canada is actually misinformation,” said Tasia Alexopoulos, national spokesperson for the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC). “When we (get) misinformation, what we see is a lot of playing on emotion and not fact.”
Alexopoulos said Canada’s biggest disinformation megaphones come from Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), big lobby organizations and anti-choice politicians.
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CPCs are clinics posing as fake abortion providers that spread abortion myths to women and pregnant women in crisis. According to the ARCC, fake abortion clinics in Canada outnumber abortion providers.
Many of the misinformation circulating amid the Roe v Wade discussion are the same recycled myths Canada has seen for years, Alexopoulos said. For example, she points to an unsubstantiated link between abortion and breast cancer, abortion and depression, and Canadian women being able to have an abortion one day before giving birth.
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Conversations about Roe v. Wade south of the border agitated the Canadians. In the week of the draft leak, Canadians Googled “abortion ban” and “home abortion” more than they have in the past 12 months, according to Google Trends .
The largest number of searches came from Manitoba, one of the fewest abortion providers in Canada (about four per province). Research from New Brunswick, which has regulations to only fund abortions performed in hospital and approved by two doctors, came third.
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“Misinformation and misinformation can be very detrimental to people seeking an abortion because this decision is very urgent,” Alexopoulos said.
A poll conducted by Maru Public Opinion in May showed that 78% of Canadians want the right to abortion strengthened by federal laws. While Canada is a predominantly pro-choice country, women’s rights advocate Dana Stefov says anti-abortion movements are “alive and well” here too, and there are active movements to elect pro-life MPs in the House of Commons.
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Stefov said that while she has seen misinformation spread across the country since the Roe v Wade leak, Canadians need to “put a lot of the desperation into context.” The country has come a very long way in the fight for reproductive rights and has made one of the greatest commitments to address neglected areas of the sexual and reproductive rights agenda, she said.
Yet major barriers remain, such as geographic distance and the high cost of travel to clinics in other provinces, contraceptives not covered by many provincial health plans, and inadequate sex education in schools.
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As the discussion continues, a Trent University professor says political parties like the Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats took advantage of the panic ahead of the Ontario election.
“I see political parties looking to encourage their base to mobilize and vote based on this leak,” said Kathryn Norlock, Kenneth Mark Drain Chair of Ethics. “It’s predicated on confusion about whether or not abortion is legal in Canada, and legal in every province…I think it’s downright misinformation to say there’s something our constituents here in Canada must be newly aware that abortion rights here have not changed. ”
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Although Canada is in a very different position than the United States, Norlock said it was imperative that Canadians pay attention to what is happening south of the border, “because we are not shelter from a regression of rights”.
Amid the turmoil, the public can also hear stories about why women “need” an array of health services, she said, “without being asked if she is a good person or a bad person, and without receiving political advice designed to intimidate or scare women.”
The ARCC told Global they are not worried about DIY abortions in Canada despite the slew of age-old misinformation. But Norlock said he still fears that “desperate people will turn to people they see as trustworthy and try whatever they hear.”
The three experts say Canadians must express to their governments and local MPs their continued support for reproductive rights, even if it “does not seem as urgent” as it does in the United States.
“What the science and the evidence tell us is that abortion rates don’t go down when abortion is criminalized. What is happening is an increase in unsafe abortions.
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