Section 230 is a last line of defense for online abortion speech

Forced birth extremists are not satisfied with closing abortion clinics. They also want to wipe accurate information about abortion access from the internet. In a post-Roe world, championing online talk about abortion — and the ability for abortion advocates and providers to raise and organize money online — is a matter of life or death. Democrats who have thoughtlessly attacked Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act need to wake up now. If they don’t heed the warnings of human rights experts, sex workers, LGBTQ+ people and reproductive rights groups, Democrats can help right-wing fanatics achieve their goal: massive censorship of online abortion content.

Since the Supreme Court toppled Roe on June 24, reproductive justice groups have fought back on the front lines — on the ground, in court and online. Abortion funds across the country have seen a huge influx of donations through crowdfunding platforms. Ad hoc groups have sprung up in places like Reddit and Facebook, where people share resources and facilitate housing and travel for those in need. But this is all fragile.

Texas has already passed legislation known as SB 8 that allows anyone to sue any person or institution for facilitating access to abortion care. That includes sharing information online about managing the abortion process, getting an abortion pill, or finding a clinic that offers abortions. The National Right to Life Committee has released a model state law that criminalizes providing or hosting information or assistance about getting a medical abortion. It specifically says that anti-choice laws should be written to prevent state residents from requesting abortions in states where it is legal to do so. This law is likely to be passed in several states.

Section 230 is the last line of defense keeping reproductive health support, information and fundraising online. Under Section 230, internet platforms that host and moderate user-generated content generally cannot be prosecuted for that content. Section 230 is not absolute. It does not provide immunity if the platform develops or creates the content, and it does not provide immunity from the enforcement of federal criminal laws. But crucially, it protects against criminal liability under state laws.

This means that, since Section 230 exists today, a lawsuit by an anti-abortion group over reproductive health care statements or a criminal proceeding initiated by a state attorney general for forced birth would be quickly dismissed. If Section 230 is weakened, online platforms such as GoFundMe and Twitter, web hosting services and payment processors such as PayPal and Venmo will face a grueling and costly onslaught of state law enforcement and civil lawsuits claiming to violate state laws. Even if these lawsuits ultimately fail, without Section 230 as a defense to get them dropped quickly, they’re going to be hugely expensive, even for the biggest platforms.

Forced birth extremists litigate, have sufficient resources and are ideologically motivated. Tech companies find it important to make money. Instead of spending tens of millions on fighting in court, many online platforms will instead “race down” and comply with the most restrictive state laws. They will change their own rules about what they allow, greatly limiting access to information about abortion. As a result, countless groups, pages, online communities, nonprofits, and healthcare access funds could be shut down and removed from the Internet — from r/AuntieNetwork to the donation options and educational content on the Planned Parenthood website. We will live in a country where lawmakers in Alabama, Mississippi and Texas will be allowed to set the rules for online speech across the country.

This post Section 230 is a last line of defense for online abortion speech

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