Iowa AG pressures YouTube to use anti-abortion talking points

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird

By Nikoel Hytrek

March 7, 2024

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird is mad at YouTube for its practice of adding context to videos about topics that are prone to misinformation.

In a letter she sent out Monday, which has been joined by 15 other state AGs, Bird pushes lies about the safety of abortion medication and claims YouTube is targeting anti-abortion groups and causes. She demands YouTube remove or edit the card. Since the publication of her letter, the language was changed but it doesn’t address the points she wanted it to address.

YouTube adds information cards below videos about any topic likely to inspire misinformation including climate change and COVID. Videos from Planned Parenthood that talk about abortion have the same information card under them.

A screenshot of the information card under videos about abortion. It reads: “An abortion is a procedure to end a pregnancy. It can be done two different ways: Medication abortion, which uses medicines to end the pregnancy. It is sometimes called a “medical abortion” or “abortion with pills.” Procedural abortion, a procedure to remove the pregnancy from the uterus. It is sometimes called a “surgical abortion.”

The previous language said: “An abortion is a procedure to end a pregnancy. It uses medicine or surgery to remove the embryo or fetus and placenta from the uterus. The procedure is done by a licensed healthcare professional.”

Bird, a Republican who is up for reelection in 2026 and may be eyeing a gubernatorial bid, claimed the original information card could threaten people’s lives because it doesn’t say patients can take the pills without physician supervision.

“Women deserve to know the truth about the dangers of chemical abortion pills,” she said in a press release announcing the letter. “For YouTube to attach deceptive labels to videos of women sharing their testimonies after suffering from at-home abortion drugs is a disservice to women everywhere. YouTube must end its blatant misinformation campaign that puts women at risk and quit targeting pro-life messages.”

Chemical abortion is a common anti-abortion term used to make abortion medication sound scary.

The truth

Abortion medication is incredibly safe and effective, which is part of the reason why it’s allowed to be self-administered in a place and time where a pregnant person feels most comfortable.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, an analysis of 87 clinical trials shows serious complications occur in less than .3% of patients, with approximately .1% of patients requiring blood transfusions. The mortality rate is less than 0.001%, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Medication abortion is often compared to a bad period with heavy bleeding and cramping. Most reports and individual stories say it’s not comfortable, but it isn’t life-threatening. People will often check in with physicians afterward to ensure the abortion was successful.

Planned Parenthood responded to Bird’s letter on Wednesday.

“This is just another deplorable attempt to stoke fear among the public, who now lives in a constant state of manufactured chaos,” said Ruth Richardson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States.

The Planned Parenthood response highlights how Bird has been focused on restricting the right to abortion in Iowa by pausing payments for sexual assault survivors to get emergency contraceptives or abortions. Additionally, once she took office in 2023, she immediately signed on to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ effort to revive the stalled near-total abortion ban.

What is this video?

The YouTube video in question was published by the anti-abortion, Alliance Defending Freedom, a far-right legal group behind the effort to overturn Roe v Wade and other attempts to allow discrimination against other protected classes such as people of color and LGBTQ+ people.

The video is about abortion medication and features a woman who had complications, suggesting abortion medication is dangerous and complications are common when they aren’t.

“YouTube nevertheless added to the video a notice that minimizes and downplays some of the serious risks of abortion drugs,” Bird wrote in her letter.

Abortion medication is the most popular type of abortion mostly because it can be done privately. Generally, abortion medication still requires a prescription, though the pills can be purchased online, from overseas, without one. This path is usually chosen by people in states with severe abortion restrictions.

Bird said all of this information about abortion medication is key to the current case before the US Supreme Court (FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine), which questions Food and Drug Administration guidelines allowing people to obtain medication without seeing a physician in person and to administer it themselves. The Alliance Defending Freedom is also behind the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine.

“Medication abortion has proven to be an extremely safe and effective way for patients to end a pregnancy for more than nearly two decades,” said Richardson of Planned Parenthood. “It breaks down existing barriers to care that would otherwise require people to drive hundreds of miles to access an abortion and empowers patients during very personal medical decisions. People need greater access to accurate information about abortion care, especially now.”

The other states that joined the letter include Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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