A group of anti-choice doctors is leveraging their professional credentials to spread dangerous medical misinformation about reproductive health care on social media platforms. Since the Supreme Court curtailed abortion rights in June, videos of one such doctor have earned millions of views and hundreds of thousands of interactions.
This same group, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, has also published a media fact sheet asking news outlets to change their coverage to align with the group’s anti-abortion slant.
Anti-abortion doctors are confusing patients with medical misinformation
The American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists is a group of anti-abortion board-certified doctors whose mission is to provide an “evidence-based rationale for defending the lives of both the pregnant mother and her pre-born child.” AAPLOG offers misinformation on unproven abortion pill “reversal” and the debunked “adverse effects” of abortion on the people who receive them. The group also falsely asserts that “abortion is never medically necessary” and commonly refers to abortions as “elective,” shaming people seeking the procedure.
Since the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade was overturned in June, AAPLOG has also embraced inaccurate messaging that ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages won’t be affected by abortion restrictions. But according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the professional membership organization for OB-GYNs, abortion restrictions can impede treatment of ectopic pregnancies. Because addressing ectopic pregnancies is extremely time-sensitive, withholding or delaying care to the pregnant person can lead to serious harm or even death:
Abortion bans—even those with exceptions for ectopic pregnancy—can generate confusion for patients and health care professionals and can result in delays to treatment. Health care professionals should never have to navigate vague legal or statutory language to determine whether the law allows them to exercise their professional judgment and provide evidence-based care.
And Dr. Louise P. King of the Harvard Medical School for Bioethics debunked the claims that “elective abortion” is different from treatment for ectopic pregnancies, explaining that "the definition [of ectopic pregnancy treatment] is to end a pregnancy” and noting that “we in the medical field consider ectopic pregnancy treatment to be abortion. The law considers it abortion.”
Further, since Roe was overturned, women in various states have had treatment for ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage denied or delayed because of confusion over the laws, indicating the reality is not as simple as AAPLOG claims.
For example, at an Ohio abortion clinic, the medical professionals on-staff received two calls from women with ectopic pregnancies saying that their doctors refused to treat them, and a Texas OB-GYN had to delay treatment for a woman going through a miscarriage whose womb was infected because the procedure to save the woman’s life at that moment would have been illegal under Texas law since fetal cardiac activity was still detectable. Doctors in Texas have also reported that pharmacists have begun questioning patients who are picking up miscarriage medications about whether they are being used for abortions, and a woman in Wisconsin bled for more than 10 days from an incomplete miscarriage after emergency room staff would not remove the fetal tissue due to the confusion surrounding post-Roe abortion laws.
Multiple medical groups have denounced licensed professionals like those involved in AAPLOG for spreading medical misinformation. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists spoke out against terms used by AAPLOG such as “elective abortion,” noting that they are “unscientific and crafted to polarize the conversation about abortion.” AAPLOG issued a parallel statement defending its stance on “elective abortion” and clarifying how it is different from treatment for ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage (“spontaneous abortion”).
The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the organization that defines the standards and administers certification for gynecologists in the U.S., has also spoken out against OB-GYNs who spread medically inaccurate information. In July, the group issued a statement saying it will investigate all claims of misinformation from board-certified medical professionals regarding “COVID-19, reproductive health care, contraception, abortion, and other OB GYN practices that may harm the patients we serve or public health,” adding that OB-GYNs disseminating such information may face consequences like licensing revocation.
AAPLOG’s legal counsel then responded with a statement threatening that “legal liability may result” if any members of AAPLOG have their board certification revoked.
AAPLOG created a “fact sheet” to “correct the record” set by media and promote “life-affirming care”
To further its agenda of spreading misinformation post-Roe, AAPLOG began a campaign in late August to influence media coverage to “clear up the myths” circulating about abortion. In its fact sheet, AAPLOG links to bad-faith anti-abortion groups like Students for Life of America and the Charlotte Lozier Institute, suggesting theirs are expert opinions despite both groups’ histories of spreading misinformation based on dubious research.
According to the Washington Examiner, AAPLOG hopes to “correct the record” supposedly set by pro-abortion reporters with claims that abortion is not critical health care, that medication abortion is dangerous, and that ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage treatment won’t be affected by abortion restrictions.
A video of an AAPLOG board member muddying the water on abortion restrictions was widely shared on social media
In a widely circulated video first reported by Mother Jones, AAPLOG board chair and board-certified OB-GYN Christina Francis erroneously stated that in the fallout of the decision to overturn Roe, pregnant people who miscarry or have ectopic pregnancies will not be affected by abortion restrictions.
In the June 26 Instagram video, Francis attempted to distinguish between care for these pregnancy complications and abortion, saying that abortion is intended specifically “to produce a dead baby” while the other procedures have different primary goals. Francis did not state her affiliation with AAPLOG and referred to herself only as a “pro-life OB-GYN” in the video itself, but the caption urged viewers to “find out more information by following” the group’s account.
While Francis’ video earned just over 9,500 likes, its misguided reproductive health messaging was quickly picked up by other anti-abortion groups, which amplified it across social media platforms. The anti-choice group Live Action reposted Francis’ video on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook (in both a reel and an individual post), sharing it with over 4 million combined followers across the platforms. Live Action’s posts of Francis earned millions of views and hundreds of thousands of interactions (likes, comments, and shares) across the platforms. Additionally, Francis’ video was shared on Facebook by the notorious Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America group. On TikTok, a right-wing page’s post of Francis’ video amassed more than 48,000 likes and more than 7,000 shares.
While Facebook and Instagram labeled posts with the video as containing false information, TikTok seemingly took no action against the content, even though it does have a policy that bans “medical misinformation that can cause harm to an individual's physical health.”
The misinformation spread by AAPLOG and Francis has the potential to cause severe, life-threatening harm to pregnant people experiencing complications. As long as organizations like AAPLOG are able to spread misinformation around reproductive care, the narrative will continue to be muddied, causing further harm to pregnant people seeking medical information in a post-Roe world.