Social media within minutes became the place where women offered help to fellow sisters needing access to in-person or medication abortions after the US Supreme Court’s ruling that de facto removed access to abortion from being a constitutional right. While many tech and media companies said they would support employees seeking abortion by paying travel costs etc, the focus on abortion meant a complicated moderation issue for them.
Apart from the moral discussion, advice given on social media could in some states mean advising users to break the law.
Abortion pills are approved in the U.S. to end pregnancies before the 10th week. President Joe Biden and his administration, having reacted very negatively against the Court’s ruling, have indicated that authorities will take action to make the pill more accessible within the U.S. but how that should be done has not been specified.
Directly after the Court’s ruling women offered fellow sisters to help them get access to the pills. Various tests showed that for instance Meta and its Instagram take down offers without delay.
Meta’s spokesperson Andy Stone kind of confirmed the policy of taking down any offer to provide pills. He tweeted:
“Content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, gift, request or donate pharmaceuticals is not allowed. Content that discusses the affordability and accessibility of prescription medication is allowed. We’ve discovered some instances of incorrect enforcement and are correcting these.”
Explainers on how to obtain abortion pills in the mail have boomed across social platform US media intelligence firm Zignal Lab has reported a spike in mentioning of the pills on social media and in broadcasts.
Underground abortion pill networks poped up, Eric Feinberg, a researcher at the Coalition for a Safer Web told the Guardian. Screenshots provided to the newspaper showed the pill Mifepristone for sale in private Facebook groups with names like “MTP Kit and Other Pills” and “Cleaning and Abortion Pills”. Vice Media reported that Facebook and Instagram almost immediately started removing posts directly offering pills to people.
News agency Associated Press reported it had seen a screenshot of an Instagram post from a woman who minutes after the Court’s ruling offered to buy or forward abortion pills through the mail.
“DM me if you want to order abortion pills, but want them sent to my address instead of yours,” she wrote. Instagram took it down immediately.
AP tested how Meta and Facebook would respond to a similar post on Facebook, writing: “If you send me your address, I will mail you abortion pills.” The post was removed within one minute, AP reported.
However, AP did not stop by that test. When the AP reporter made the same exact post but swapped out the words “abortion pills” for “a gun”, the post remained untouched. A post with the same exact offer to mail “weed” was also left up and was not considered a violation of the social media’s rule system.
Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, US journalism unions started trying to add access to abortion for their
Fearing the US Supreme court would change the earlier ruling about access to abortion, the European Parliament stressed the importance of safe and legal access to abortion. The Parliament said that all EU Countries have to decriminalise abortion and that the US government should ensure access to safe and legal abortion.
“MEPs condemn the backsliding in women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide including in the US and some EU countries, calling for safe access to abortion”, the Parliament said in a statement that was approved by 364 votes in favour, 154 against and 37 abstentions.
MEPs urged US President Biden and his administration to ensure access to safe and legal abortion.
“Bans and other restrictions on abortion disproportionately affect women in poverty”, MEPs, said, stressing that women who, due to financial or logistical barriers, cannot afford to travel to reproductive health clinics in neighbouring states or countries, are at greater risk of undergoing unsafe and life-threatening procedures.
“The European External Action Service, the Commission and all EU countries should compensate for any possible reduction in US funding to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) globally, and strongly advocate and prioritise universal access to safe and legal abortion in their external relations. Parliament proposes that medical professionals who risk legal or other forms of harassment be offered a safe haven.”
Turning the attention to EU countries, MEPs urge member states to decriminalise abortion and remove and combat obstacles to safe and legal abortion and access to SRHR services, which should be guaranteed without discrimination.
“Medical practitioners should not deny women access to abortion care on grounds of religion or conscience, as this can endanger the patient’s life.”
“Almost all deaths stemming from unsafe abortions occur in countries where abortion is severely restricted. Were a ban to take effect, it is estimated that the annual number of maternal deaths in the US due to unsafe abortions would increase by 21% by the second year”, the Parliament’s statement says.
A compilation on abortion rights made by Moonshot.News shows worldwide, abortion is prohibited altogether in 24 countries.
When people face barriers to obtaining safe abortions, they often resort to unsafe procedures, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), and unsafe abortions are more common in countries with restrictive laws.
Across the European Union, although laws and policies on accessing abortion services, with reproductive health consequences for those using them, vary greatly, all Member States allow it under certain conditions – except one:
- Malta is the only country that denies entirely women’s access to abortion, even if their lives are at risk and women who have an abortion can face up to three years in jail.
- Poland also has very restrictive laws regarding abortions and since 2021 has made it illegal to terminate pregnancies with fetal defects, but it is anyway still possible to get an abortion on grounds of saving a woman’s life, preserving her health, or in cases of rape.
- Eleven Member States – Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovakia – have a mandatory waiting period.
- Belgium, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Hungary, the Netherlands and Slovakia mandate pre-abortion counselling.
- The only countries not requiring third-party consent, for example parental consent, for abortion in underaged children, are Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal and Finland.
US journalism unions had prior to the Supreme court’s ruling started trying to add access to abortion for their members through health care plans, the Poynter institute reported.
“It’s a shame that it’s up to individual units or individual unions — or in some cases, individuals — to have to protect what should be an essential right for people,” Amy McCarthy, Vox Media Union, said. “But that’s the world that we live in right now.”
The three largest unions representing journalists — the NewsGuild, the Writers Guild of America East and SAG-AFTRA — have all condemned removing access to abort as a constitutional right.
“Members and units within those unions are working to add provisions to their contracts that would ensure their health insurance covers abortion care”, Poynter reported.
Vox Media Union — which is part of the Writers Guild and represents roughly 360 journalists — has already submitted such a proposal. The union was in the middle of negotiations for its second contract when news about the expected ruling leaked. Though the employees’ health insurance plan already includes some coverage for abortion, the union wanted to “enshrine” that right in their contract, bargaining committee member Amy McCarthy”, told Poynter.
“Without something in a collective bargaining agreement, the company can kind of decide unilaterally to just rescind that benefit,” McCarthy said. “Considering how this could go when Roe is overturned, we wanted to get that language in there for sure.”
To protect its members, the union also proposed language asking Vox to provide financial support to employees who must travel to receive an abortion.
Part of ensuring abortion care access is making sure that sick leave policies are flexible enough that employees can take a sick day at a moment’s notice to get an abortion, NewsGuild president Jon Schleuss told Poynter. The NewsGuild is also seeking to protect the privacy of members who do seek an abortion. If an employer does find out that an employee received an abortion, the union wants to make sure those employees do not face discipline or discrimination.
A number of non-media companies, for instance Amazon, have pledged to help their workers access abortion care. Amazon said it would pay up to USD 4,000 in travel expenses for employees who cannot access medical procedures, including abortions, within 100 miles of where they live. Apple, Microsoft, Starbucks, Tesla, Yelp and other companies have made similar promises, Poynter reports.
As the abortion issue is very controversial in the US, shortly after the news about the leaked draft ruling broke, some newsrooms sent their employees reminders about company social media policies urging staffers to avoid sharing personal opinions on political issues.
Schleuss told Poynter that journalists who want to talk about abortion access can tie it to their own health care plans, making it protected speech under the National Labor Relations Act. The law, which also covers workers who are not part of a union, protects the rights of employees to talk about working conditions, including on social media.