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Latina immigrants may be exposed to Spanish-language disinformation about abortion

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Doctors and reproductive rights advocates say they've seen a surge in Spanish-language misinformation about abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Some worry this may discourage members of the Latino community from seeking medical services. NPR's Maria Godoy reports.

MARIA GODOY, BYLINE: Liz Lebron works at the Latino Anti-Disinformation Lab, a media watchdog group. Just after news leaked in May that the Supreme Court planned to overturn Roe v. Wade, Lebron and her colleagues noticed a spike in misinformation on abortion being shared in Spanish on social media.

LIZ LEBRON: Abortion was not really on our radar, and all of a sudden after the leak, it started popping up. And it has not slowed down.

GODOY: She says the misinformation she's seeing runs the gamut from posts that say abortion is no longer legal in a state where, in fact, it remains legal to those that falsely say the procedure is not safe.

LEBRON: I saw another post that talked about a clinic - and this is their wording - that they killed three women because they provided them with abortion care.

GODOY: She says that these kinds of falsehoods are being shared by some popular Spanish-language accounts.

LEBRON: I mean, I'm looking at a post right now that has 230,000 followers.

GODOY: And this misinformation isn't just spreading on social media.

LUPE RODRIGUEZ: We're hearing it from community activists on the ground. We're hearing it from allies who we work with in the field where we're doing our work.

GODOY: That's Lupe Rodriguez, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice.

RODRIGUEZ: We know for a fact that many people are confused about what the laws are in their own state or where they can go for information or health care. And that is making it much easier to spread misinformation.

GODOY: Rodriguez says, in some cases, this isn't necessarily malicious. Laws are changing in many states, and people are just sharing rumors that they think are true. She and others say that abortion opponents are capitalizing on the confusion by putting out even more disinformation.

Liz Lebron says she's seen disinformation that seems designed to galvanize voters. She cites, for example, a post that targets Val Demings, the Democratic candidate for Senate running against Republican Senator Marco Rubio in Florida.

LEBRON: There is a group Floridanos con Marco, and they posted to their 11,000 followers that Val Demings wants to fund abortions with taxpayer money until the moment of birth. And it's like, oh, goodness.

GODOY: Demings is on the record saying she supports the right to abortion up to the viability of the fetus, which doctors generally put at about 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Ena Suseth Valladares is with California Latinas for Reproductive Justice. She says her group has traces some abortion disinformation to crisis pregnancy centers located in low-income immigrant Latino communities. She says these centers sometimes offer services like free diapers or formula, but their mission is to dissuade pregnant people from getting an abortion.

ENA SUSETH VALLADARES: I know for a fact that they will say things like, you know, it's going to impact your health, your ability to have children in the future; it's going to impact your chances of getting like cervical cancer, for example. So this is what community members have told us.

GODOY: Dr. Melissa Simon is an OB-GYN at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. She says widespread disinformation is creating fear among the immigrant Latina patients who come to her seeking abortions. Even though Illinois is an abortion safe haven, she says patients have told her they fear that getting the procedure will result in legal jeopardy.

MELISSA SIMON: I see patients that are fearing the repercussions of getting an abortion not to just themselves, but to their family and loved ones.

GODOY: Simon says she recently saw a pregnant teenager who came to see her with her mother, who is an undocumented immigrant. The daughter was scared that if she got an abortion, it might somehow end up getting her mother detained or even deported. Simon worries that such fears will keep people from seeking medical care when they need it - for example, if they're having complications from a medication abortion or from an ectopic pregnancy that puts their life at risk.

SIMON: When you're trying to care for somebody, this rampant disinformation and preying on the most vulnerable populations that we have, people who already have low resources and fear, this is a real problem.

GODOY: Maria Godoy, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Maria Godoy is a senior science and health editor and correspondent with NPR News. Her reporting can be heard across NPR's news shows and podcasts. She is also one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.