Aug 30, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Abortion misinformation surges in Latino communities

Illustration of a computer mouse's wire as a fuse.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Latinos are facing an onslaught of Spanish-language misinformation about abortion in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, health experts and reproductive rights advocates say.

Why it matters: Groups working to counter these campaigns warn that the surge in false claims will have real health consequences for Latinos, who already face barriers to prenatal resources and reproductive health care.

Driving the news: These misinformation and disinformation campaigns often revolve around false claims that abortion is now illegal across the entire U.S. and misleading details about the procedure, including discredited statements that it can lead to infertility or breast cancer.

  • The flood of misinformation has increased fears about the possible criminalization of abortion amid claims it could affect immigration status, said Dina Montemarano, the research director of the nonprofit NARAL Pro-Choice America.
  • Advocates say they've also seen more Spanish-language misinformation coming out of crisis pregnancy centers — led by anti-abortion activists — that appear to offer medical services but often share false claims about the operation's illegality in bids to dissuade pregnant people.
  • Latinos who aren't native English speakers are particularly vulnerable because they lack easy access to fact-checking resources — especially on social media and messaging platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp, which host a large swath of Latino users.

State of play: Melissa Simon, vice chair of research at Northwestern University's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said these claims don't simply influence viewpoints; they can worsen Latinos' maternal mortality rate, which has increased "alarmingly" in the last few years.

  • Maternal health complications "will be amplified in negative ways if this disinformation and fear persist and spread," warned Simon, who added she's had to debunk a lot of misinformation among patients who travel to Illinois for abortions.

The big picture: Several groups are taking a multipronged approach to combat the surge.

  • The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice has cultivated a network of trusted local leaders who hold in-person workshops and educational sessions to counter misinformation in their communities in Texas, Virginia, Florida and New York, executive director Lupe M. Rodríguez told Axios.
  • "We're working to interrupt those kinds of threats ... and trying to work on these algorithms [on social media] to get the right information out there," Rodríguez said.
  • The advocacy group has hosted livestreams to share accurate updates on abortion news more widely.
  • Organizers have also prepared written materials in Spanish to share with abortion funds and clinics and are working on legislation in New York to regulate misinformation coming out of crisis pregnancy centers.

Factchequeado, a Spanish-language fact-checking service focused on U.S. news, launched earlier this year with the specific purpose of identifying and debunking dangerous claims circulating on social media — such as herbal methods for abortion.

  • It has partnered with organizations including PolitiFact and Telemundo’s T-Verifica to republish its explainers and reach broader audiences.

Health experts like the Illinois Medical Professional Action Collaborative Team have also taken to social media to amplify accurate information in both English and Spanish, which NARAL says plays a critical role in promoting non-ideological medical information.

  • Until tech companies take a more active role in regulating and removing false claims from their platforms, the goal is to "balance the information ecosystem," Montemarano said.

Between the lines: Sinsi Hernández-Cancio, vice president for health justice at the nonpartisan nonprofit National Partnership for Women & Families, noted that Latinos often distrust medical institutions due to histories of maltreatment, like forced sterilizations.

  • That's where trusted messengers can play an important role, she said.

The bottom line: The efforts to combat misinformation are "super important," but "trying to scale them is really critical," Simon said.

Go deeper