Anti-Choice Activists Using New Method to Target Women Considering Abortions

June 4th 2016

Lucy Tiven

A Boston advertiser has found a new way for anti-choice groups to target women considering abortions — by showing pro-life messaging on their phones.

The campaign uses location-based marketing to send targeted advertisements to women in Planned Parenthood clinics and other abortion facilities.

The campaign was created by Copley advertising, and spearheaded by executive John Flynn, Rewire News reported in an in-depth investigative piece. Copley has reportedly been enlisted by RealOptions — a Northern California-based group of crisis pregnancy centers — and the adoption agency Bethany Christian Services.

Rewire reported:

"'We can reach every Planned Parenthood in the U.S.,' Flynn wrote in a PowerPoint display sent to potential clients in February. The PowerPoint included a slide titled 'Targets for Pro-Life,' in which Flynn said he could also reach abortion clinics, hospitals, doctors’ offices, colleges, and high schools in the United States and Canada, and then '[d]rill down to age and sex.'"

ATTN: reached out to Copley Advertising, Bethany Christian Services, and RealOptions, for comment and will update this post when we receive a response.

How it works.

The campaign functions by tagging smartphones inside “Planned Parenthood clinics, abortion clinics, methadone clinics and high-risk areas” and displays ads in apps opened on the phones, according to a September 2015 report on the pro-life site Live Action News.

Flynn reportedly uses geofencing technology — "a technology that defines a virtual boundary around a real-world geographical area" and "allows automatic alerts to be generated based on the defined coordinates of a geographic area," Techopedia explains. "A simple example might be an email or text message that is automatically triggered and sent to a user's cell phone when that user's child arrives home from school."

An example might be a woman receiving advertisements for an adoption clinic in the waiting room of Planned Parenthood or other clinic.

ATTN: reached out to Planned Parenthood Northern California, who declined to comment.

The backlash.

Reportedly, the RealOptions crisis pregnancy center ads suggest that they simply provide facts about both abortion and non-abortion options, but opponents of the campaign believe that the messages are misleading due to the group's strong anti-choice stance.

On federal tax filings, the organization's mission is described as "empowering and equipping women and men to choose life for their unborn children through the love of Jesus Christ in accordance with his word regarding the sanctity of human life."

Not everyone is pleased about the targeted advertisements. “I felt disgust, and I felt protective of these women who are going to seek sensitive medical services at a time when they’re vulnerable,” a social worker at a Northern California adoption agency who chose to remain anonymous told Rewire.

Geofencing technology is itself controversial.

While geofencing is legal, many digital security, marketing, and privacy experts don't think it is ethically sound.

“You can grab an uncomfortable amount of information from someone’s device and the apps they use,” digital marketing expert Brian Solis told Rewire. “It’s unfortunate, but any woman who plans to visit an affected Planned Parenthood, or anyone who works for Planned Parenthood, should be afraid.”

Technology has outpaced privacy law in the U.S., Mother Jones pointed out; despite the laws that forbid anti-choice protesters from entering abortion clinics or crossing designated "buffer-zones," geofencing allows these groups to legally communicate anti-choice messages to women within clinics' closed doors by creating virtual boundaries.

"Privacy law in the U.S. is technology- and context-dependent," University of California, Berkley law professor Chris Hoofnagle told Rewire. "As an example, the medical information you relay to your physician is very highly protected, but if you go to a medical website and search for 'HIV' or 'abortion,' that information is not protected at all."

Facebook's stance on the ads is also somewhat unclear — the platform prohibits ads that "make implications, directly or indirectly, about a user’s personal characteristics, including medical condition or pregnancy," Tom Channick, a Facebook spokesperson, told Rewire. Yet Flynn reportedly claimed that Facebook permitted the ads.

“We are very excited to bring our mobile marketing capabilities to the pro-life community,” Flynn told Live Action News.

As mentioned above, ATTN: reached out to Copley Advertising, Bethany Christian Services, and RealOptions. We will update if we hear back.

[h/t Jezebel]