Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Yelp have filed lawsuits against each other over language used by the crowd-sourced business review platform when describing crisis pregnancy centers.
A crisis pregnancy center is a type of nonprofit organization usually established by anti-abortion groups for the purpose of pressuring pregnant women to not have an abortion. They do not provide abortion or offer a full range of health care, though they often advertise themselves as full abortion clinics. And as they are not legitimate medical clinics, they also often do not have to follow HIPAA or privacy laws.
There are over 200 crisis pregnancy centers in Texas, where abortion is illegal. However, it is completely lawful in other states for Texas residents to travel to receive the procedure.
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From August 2022 to February, Yelp has included in the reviews of crisis pregnancy centers notices that the clinics “typically provide limited medical services and may not have licensed medical professionals onsite," according to court filings. Yelp has said it flagged nearly 470 businesses as crisis pregnancy centers last year alone.
Despite these statements being truthful, Paxton filed a lawsuit against the company last week. The AG alleges that Yelp violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Consumer Protection Act through their notices by claiming staff are not medically licensed.
However, the evidence Paxton himself cited in court -- from an anti-abortion group, no less -- reveals that the vast majority working at crisis pregnancy centers do not have medical licenses. The report from the Charlotte Lozier Institute, a branch of anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, found that just over 10,200 of more than 68,800 workers at crisis pregnancy centers have medical licenses -- less than 15 percent.
Yelp's lawsuit claims that the notice they place on clinics is “a truthful statement intended to enable Yelp users to make informed choices.” The company also cited a 2014 study that analyzed over 250 crisis pregnancy center websites, finding that 80 percent continued to provide at least one false or misleading piece of information.
Yelp adjusted their notice slightly after February of this year when Paxton and 23 other attorneys general complained in a letter to CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, who is a public supporter of abortion access. Yelp rewrote their warning to say crisis pregnancy centers "do not offer abortions or referrals to abortion providers.”
Paxton’s office then issued a notice saying the revised notice provides “an accurate description,” according to Yelp's filing.
“The Attorney General has publicly conceded that this statement is ‘accurate,’ but still intends to punish Yelp using his authority to prosecute allegedly deceptive trade practices,” the lawsuit reads.
In a statement, a company spokesperson for Yelp noted that freedom of speech and freedom of information apply to those seeking abortions or other medical services, not just those aiming to stop them, and that countless users rely on accurate information to make serious medical decisions.
“The trust and safety of our users is a top priority for Yelp, which is why we take extensive measures to provide consumers with relevant and reliable information when they search for local businesses on our platform," they said in part. "This is especially critical when people are searching for healthcare services on Yelp, including reproductive care. 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.”