After the Supreme Court decided to undo it Roe v. Wade on Friday, Facebook and Instagram quickly began removing posts from users who offered to send abortion pills to those in need. In one case, as the Associated Press reported, an Instagram user told his followers on Friday, “DM me if you want to order abortion pills but want them sent to my address instead of yours.” The offer was taken minutes after the Supreme Court ruling was made public and withdrawn moments later, the AP said. Additionally, Motherboard noted that a Facebook user’s account had been suspended after he wrote, “I’ll be emailing abortion pills to one of you. Just message me.”
On Monday, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, explained this policy following the release of Motherboard’s report. “Content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, gift, solicit or donate medicines is not allowed. Content that discusses affordability and accessibility of prescription drugs is allowed.” tweeted Meta spokesperson Andy Stone. “We have identified some cases of incorrect enforcement and are correcting them.”
This rapid removal took place on Tuesday. Seconds after I posted Facebook messages saying “DM me your address and I can send you abortion pills” and “You can use my address if you need a place to ship abortion pills”, I received the following notification in both cases : “Your mail goes against our community drug standards. No one else can see your message. We have these standards to encourage safety and compliance with common legal restrictions.” I shared the same posts on Instagram and they were both quickly deleted (Unlike in the case reported by Motherboard, neither account was suspended.)
After reformulating the posts with intentional typos, e.g. “DM if you need ab0rti0n-p1lls and you can get them from my address”, neither Facebook nor Instagram deleted them.
In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the legality of the FDA-approved abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol, which were approved by mail order last year, remains under discussion in a number of states. Ever since Roe v. Wade was destroyed, nine states have made most abortions illegal, and the majority have already banned or restricted access to abortion pills. Last week, the Biden administration, including the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services, announced it would work to expand access to the drugs in the US.
Instagram apparently even flags pro-choice content that never mentions abortion pills. “Yesterday I shared the poster for my short documentary ‘Someone You Know’ on Instagram (a film documenting 3 later abortion stories with animation I made in 2020),” wrote Asha Dahya, a pro-choice activist, in a tweet Tuesday, noting that Instagram placed a warning about “graphic and violent content” with her post.
In a post shared shortly after Dahya’s tweet, Instagram’s official PR account wrote“We hear that people around the world are seeing our ‘sensitivity screens’ on many different types of content when they shouldn’t. We are investigating this bug and are now working on a fix.” It’s unclear if the statement was caused by Dahya, but Instagram PR shared the explanation less than 30 minutes after her tweet. Meta PR did not immediately respond to Vanity Fair‘s requests for comment.