Reason Roundup

Senators Want To Control Google Search Results About Abortion

Plus: Uvalde cops didn't check classroom door, Texas GOP slides further to the right, telemedicine deregulation in peril, and more...


Democrats ask Google to "limit the appearance" of anti-abortion clinic results. It would be good if people searching Google for information on abortion were presented with the most relevant and scientifically rigorous information, just as it would be good if Google results didn't tell someone with a leg cramp that he might be dying of some rare disease. But for this to happen, tech company employees would have to be both perfect arbiters of the truth and also able to personally vet heaps and heaps of websites. Since that is impossible, we settle for a system where Google serves up an array of web links and lets individuals take from this content what they will.

This upsets some politicians, who think Google should be serving up only government-approved information. In the latest iteration of this phenomenon, 21 senators have sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai complaining that people who search for information about abortions may be led to websites for crisis pregnancy centers.

Crisis pregnancy centers exist to persuade people not to choose abortion. They may be run by religious organizations or by secular pro-life groups. They often draw people in by purporting to be neutral sources of information and support for people facing unexpected pregnancies, but their goal is to convince people to continue those pregnancies. Sometimes this is done through positive means, such as emotional support and material aid, and sometimes it is done through negative means, such as guilt trips and misleading information.

From a pro-choice perspective, there is much to criticize about crisis pregnancy centers. But while some have been found to misrepresent themselves in ways that amount to fraud, most operate within legal limits and have every right to exist, to advertise, and to try to persuade people. Looked at another way, they could even be lauded as representing a non-authoritarian way to promote pro-life views—standing in contrast to the much more drastic tactics of trying to shut down abortion clinics, bar access to abortion pills, and criminalize abortion doctors.

In any event, in a free society they must be able to advertise anywhere pro-choice advertising is permitted.

If Google decided to ban crisis pregnancy center advertisements, that would be one thing. I don't think that would be a good idea, since I think we benefit when tech companies trying to remain relatively apolitical. But as a private company, Google is perfectly free to make that choice.

But whichever choice it makes, it should make it free of political pressure.

In their letter to Google, the senators—including Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), and Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.)—give the impression that all crisis pregnancy centers falsely represent themselves as abortion clinics. "We write today regarding disturbing new reports that Google has been directing users who search for abortion services towards anti-abortion 'fake clinics,' also known as 'crisis pregnancy centers' or 'pregnancy resource centers,'" they state.

They call on Google to "limit the appearance of anti-abortion fake clinics or so-called 'crisis pregnancy centers' in Google search results, Google Ads, and on Google maps when users search for 'abortion clinic,' 'abortion pill,' or similar terms." They ask that Google attach disclaimers to crisis pregnancy center websites that appear in search results.

But it's inaccurate to suggest all crisis pregnancy centers are masquerading as abortion clinics. And those that are doing this in a way that runs afoul of the law should be dealt with by the legal system, not by federal lawmakers exerting censorial pressure on a private company.

The latter approach doesn't just undermine free speech and free markets; it's remarkably short-sighted as a political strategy. If senators pressure private companies into excluding speech that Democratic politicians don't like while Democrats are in power, what do they think will happen when Republicans are in charge again?

The best way to counter bad information is to get people good information, not to strong-arm private actors into spreading only your preferred messages. A government powerful enough to bully tech companies into obscuring information about anti-abortion centers is also one powerful enough to bully tech companies into hiding info about how to obtain an abortion—and about a whole lot else.


Uvalde cops didn't check if door was locked. News of the stunning incompetence of the Uvalde, Texas, police keeps coming. "As police waited for more than an hour in a hallway outside the classrooms where a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers, none of the officers checked to see if the doors to the classrooms were locked," reports ABC:

The new development in the investigation of the shooting came just days after Chief Pete Arredondo of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police, the incident commander during the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, defended his actions and claimed the delay in breaching connecting classrooms 111 and 112, where the gunman was holed up was because he was waiting for a janitor to get the key to the door.

But surveillance footage showed that neither Arredondo nor any other officers taking cover in the hallway outside the classrooms ever attempted to open the door before receiving the keys to the two connecting classrooms. That means there were 77 minutes between when the alleged 18-year-old gunman entered the school through an unlocked door and when police fatally shot him, a source with knowledge of the investigation told ABC News.

See also:

• "Uvalde hires law firm to block release of school shooting public records"

• "Police Militarization Gave Us Uvalde"


Texas Republicans move further right. The Texas Republican Party's new platform—voted on this past weekend—includes a resolution declaring the election of Joe Biden illegitimate, and it is expected to include a plank declaring homosexuality an "abnormal lifestyle choice." The Biden resolution was "approved by a voice vote of the delegates," reports The New York Times:

The statements about homosexuality—as well as additional stances on abortion that called for students to "learn about the Humanity of the Preborn Child"—were among more than 270 planks that were approved by a platform committee and voted on by the larger group of convention delegates using paper ballots. The results of those votes were still pending on Sunday, but Mr. Wesolek said it was rare for a plank to be voted down by the full convention after being approved by the committee.


Telehealth in danger. Near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, states started lifting restrictions on remote doctors visits and prescribing of medications. Lo and behold, things worked out just fine, prompting many to predict that loosened telehealth standards—enjoyed by both providers and consumers—were here to stay. But states have started rolling back the deregulation of remote health care, pinning the blame partly on antiquated licensing standards:

The rollback in telehealth access has been happening gradually and quietly over the past few months as pandemic-era emergency health orders have lapsed in one state after another, reimposing some of the old rules about when doctors can practice in multiple states.

At Johns Hopkins Medicine, some patients and their families now have to switch doctors or drive hours to different states when previously video calls from their homes would have been allowed under the looser regulations, said Dr. Brian Hasselfeld, the health system's medical director for digital health and telemedicine.

The major barrier is licensing: a requirement rooted in the 19th century that a doctor must have a license from the state where a patient is located, even if the doctor is licensed elsewhere.

"Most states now are back to the pre-pandemic licensure rules, where you must be licensed in our state if you're going to see patients in our state," Hasselfeld said.

More here.

A Reason Foundation report released earlier this year looks at what states should do to protect access to telemedcine. "States need to act now to ensure the physical and economic needs of their state are met with a more quality and future-oriented health system," suggests Vittorio Nastasi, Reason's director of criminal justice policy.


• "According to leaked audio from more than 80 internal TikTok meetings, China-based employees of ByteDance have repeatedly accessed nonpublic data about US TikTok users," reports Buzzfeed.

• A bipartisan tech antitrust bill may soon pass. "It's still a bad idea," writes Reason's Joe Lancaster.

• Justin Amash shares his vision for the Libertarian Party.

• A history of eavesdropping.