Yelp sues Texas for right to publish actual accurate abortion info
So much for that free speech, huh?
Yelp has sued Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to prevent him from punishing the reviews website for labeling Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) as places that do not actually offer abortion services.
In a complaint [PDF] filed on Wednesday in a San Francisco federal court, Yelp said it is seeking an order prohibiting the Texas AG from threatening the biz over exercising its First Amendment right to free speech.
"On September 26, we received a letter from the Office of the Attorney General of Texas informing us that they intend to sue Yelp over the consumer notice that we place on the Yelp pages of crisis pregnancy centers," it told The Register.
"The letter takes issue with a consumer notice that hasn’t been used on the Yelp site for over six months, won’t be used again, and which was helpful in informing consumers about crisis pregnancy centers."
The current notice Yelp attaches to CPCs is by Paxton's own admission "accurate." And as it argues in its complaint, "The Attorney General may not punish Yelp for publishing truthful information."
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, "CPC is a term used to refer to certain facilities that represent themselves as legitimate reproductive health care clinics providing care for pregnant people but actually aim to dissuade people from accessing certain types of reproductive health care, including abortion care and even contraceptive options."
Yelp, following the US Supreme Court's 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, said in August 2022 that it would label CPCs listed on its website with a consumer notice explaining that they are not clinics and would recategorize its business pages to clarify the distinction.
"Yelp learned that some crisis pregnancy centers – businesses that offer pregnancy-related counseling, but not abortion services or referrals to abortion providers – were leading users seeking abortion care away from medical providers to anti-abortion counseling services," the complaint explains.
"Beginning in August 2022, Yelp published a notice informing consumers that crisis pregnancy centers 'typically provide limited medical services and may not have licensed medical professionals onsite.'"
On February 7 Yelp received a letter [PDF] from 24 State AGs that accused the company of a scheme "to discredit crisis pregnancy centers and to discourage women and families from accessing their services." And the letter argued that Yelp's statement was overly broad, misleading, and discriminatory.
Yelp subsequently modified the language of its labels to address the state officials' concerns. The notice now reads, "This is a Crisis Pregnancy Center. Crisis Pregnancy Centers do not offer abortions or referrals to abortion providers."
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A Yelp spokesperson told The Register that the company makes the trust and safety of its users a top priority, and thus strives to provide accurate, relevant information.
"This is especially critical when people are searching for healthcare services on Yelp, including reproductive care," the spokesperson commented. "While some people come to Yelp to find businesses that offer the pregnancy resources that crisis pregnancy centers provide, there are others who turn to Yelp to find reliable information about abortion providers.
"It’s been well-reported that crisis pregnancy centers do not offer abortion services or referrals to them, and that many provide misleading information in an attempt to steer people seeking abortion care to other options — this often starts with an online search."
Both Texas and Florida passed social media laws that limit how online platforms can moderate content and both have been temporarily blocked by challenges based on free speech claims from tech industry groups. The US Supreme Court in January delayed taking up the cases, leaving the constitutionality of the laws unresolved.
Last month, the Biden administration, via the US Solicitor General, urged the Supreme Court to intervene and settle conflicting appeals court rulings about the state laws from the Eleventh and Fifth Circuit.