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Misinformation about abortion targets Spanish speakers, galvanizing Latino voters

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Groups that track the flow of disinformation say they've seen a new trend in recent months - an increase in false messages about abortion, specifically targeting Spanish-speaking voters. NPR's Maria Godoy has been looking into this. And, Maria, I assume Roe v. Wade factors into this.

MARIA GODOY, BYLINE: Yeah, you're right. You know, I spoke with Liz Lebron. She's with the Latino Anti-Disinformation Lab. They're a media watchdog group. She told me that just after news leaked in May that the Supreme Court planned to overturn Roe, she and her colleagues saw a jump in abortion disinformation 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.

PFEIFFER: Maria, when you say disinformation, what exactly were they seeing?

GODOY: You know, it really runs the gamut from posts that say abortion is no longer legal - even in places where it is, in fact, still legal - to posts that falsely claimed the procedure isn't safe. Lebron told me that these falsehoods are being shared by some popular Spanish language accounts with tens of thousands of followers. And the fact is, right now, because there is so much confusion because state laws are changing, this kind of misinformation spreads easily because people are looking for answers. So they share false posts, thinking that it's true.

PFEIFFER: And are you finding that people who knowingly post this misinformation are doing so to capitalize on all this confusion?

GODOY: Yeah, that's exactly right. You know, and this is playing out in an especially pernicious way when it comes to misinformation aimed at attracting Latino voters. Here's an example that Liz Lebron told me about in which misinformation showed up on a Spanish language site that targeted Florida Representative Val Demings. She's the Democratic candidate for Senate running against Republican Senator Marco Rubio.

LEBRON: There is a group, Floridianos del Marco (ph), 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: Now, this is not true. Demings is clearly on the record saying she supports the right to abortion only up to the viability of the fetus, which doctors generally put at about 24 weeks of pregnancy. But the thing is - and this is important - polls show abortion has risen in importance among Latino voters in recent months. And while many of these voters support the right to legal abortion, there are, of course, those who don't or are on the fence. And those are the votes possibly up for grabs.

PFEIFFER: And this is an issue that isn't just about influencing elections. There are other consequences here, basically.

GODOY: Well, right. There are concerns that this rampant disinformation could also lead to serious health consequences.

PFEIFFER: And spell some of those out. What kind of health consequences?

GODOY: Well, so I spoke with Dr. Melissa Simon. She's an OB-GYN at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. She's Latina, and she says she's seen a lot of fear fanned by disinformation among her Spanish-speaking immigrant patients.

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 told me about 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 is worried these fears will keep some people from seeking the medical care they need.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Maria Godoy. Thank you very much.

GODOY: Thank you. 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.