New data from Media Matters reveals that Facebook has earned tens of thousands in revenue from anti-abortion organizations running ads with misinformation about medication abortion procedures and so-called “abortion pill reversal,” despite the platform’s ad policies against health misinformation. These anti-abortion Facebook ads have been seen millions of times.
In June, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, ending the constitutional right to abortion and triggering abortion bans in states across the country. Aware of the consequences of the decision and of an increase in the demand for medication abortions, both President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland promised to defend access to abortion pills, including in states that are moving to ban the federally approved medications.
For years, anti-abortion activists have pushed lies about abortion pills, falsely claiming that there is a safe and effective procedure for “reversing” medication abortions by flooding the body with progesterone, the hormone that promotes fetal growth. In 2019, the American Medical Association described these methods as experimental and unethical. That same year, a study designed to investigate “abortion pill reversal” was abruptly ended due to safety concerns after several participants were hospitalized. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists writes that “claims regarding abortion ‘reversal’ treatment are not based on science and do not meet clinical standards,” noting that they are designed “to cause confusion and perpetuate stigma, and to steer women to this unproven medical approach” which will “compromise patient care and safety.”
Facebook claims to prohibit advertisements that make “deceptive, false, or misleading” health claims, but the platform seemingly allows users to violate this policy as they push misinformation about medication abortions by sharing purported educational resources, praise doctors and pregnancy centers for supposedly “saving babies” with the process and falsely claim that “abortion pill reversal” has saved as many as “3,000 lives,” as well as telling stories about people who sought it.
Anti-abortion organizations have also taken full advantage of Facebook as an advertising engine, spending tens of thousands of dollars to target users with misinformation related to abortion pills and “abortion pill reversal.”
In a new report, The Markup found that Facebook users on its national panel were served 17 such ads from two anti-abortion groups — Live Action and Heartbeat International — between October 2021 and March 2022. This included one ad from anti-choice group Live Action that read, “On day one, a baby’s DNA, gender, ethnicity, hair color, and eye color are determined. This is human development in the first 10 weeks of life. Did you know it is possible to reverse the abortion pill?” According to The Markup, the ad was “targeted toward women Meta had marked as interested in ‘pregnancy’ and ‘motherhood.’”
Using Facebook’s Ad Library, Media Matters found that Live Action ran at least 22 ads with that same text in 2021. The organization paid Facebook at least $22,000 for the ads, which earned over 5.5 million impressions before all but one of them were taken down by Facebook following reporting in September 2021.
Even after Facebook was made aware of Live Action’s ads about “abortion pill reversal,” it allowed the organization to run similar ads telling the story of Shashana, who the organization claims used the “Abortion Pill Reversal Hotline.” Media Matters found that Live Action paid Facebook roughly $10,000 for these two ads, which ran in October and November and earned over 2 million impressions.
We also found that Live Action has pushed misinformation related to abortion pills since a draft opinion for Dobbs was published by Politico on May 2. In fact, there are at least 9 such ads that were created since then, earning Facebook at least $2,000. The ads were seen over 545,000 times.
Other anti-abortion organizations have also run ads related to abortion pills since the draft opinion was leaked. One crisis pregnancy center in Georgia has run at least 15 ads with video testimony that mentions abortion pills. The ads cost at least $1,800 and earned at least 63,000 impressions.
Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk has run at least 4 ads with videos that promote “abortion pill reversal,” earning Facebook at least $600 and receiving at least 142,000 impressions.