On Tuesday, the crowdfunding website GoFundMe announced new content rules that prohibit campaigns about abortion or “content associated or relating to” it. The move is sparking concerns that the site is going too far to censor content related to reproductive rights, particularly since GoFundMe has not evenly applied this new policy and has used anti-choice language to describe it.
Earlier this week, the company shut down the campaign of an Illinois woman, Bailey, who was trying to raise money for an abortion that she could not afford out of pocket. According to her page, she is “currently unemployed, completely broke, in debt, and in no position to hold down a job due to severe symptoms of a rough, unplanned and unexpected pregnancy.” GoFundMe sent Bailey an email saying that her campaign was cancelled because it contained “subject matter that GoFundMe would rather not be associated with” and because of the high volume of complaints the website had received about the page. When that email was sent on Friday afternoon, the company said they handled such complaints on a “case by case” basis. By Tuesday, the company had switched its policy to a full-on ban.
However, it is unclear how far this ban extends. While the company’s website says that content must not relate to abortion or “content associated with or relating to” it, a company spokesperson told ThinkProgress that “at this time, GoFundMe makes no distinction and places no restrictions on a pro-life or pro-choice group’s ability to fundraise for rallies or protests.” This raises the question about what exactly is considered to be related to abortion under the company’s new guidelines.
A search of fundraising campaigns related to abortion shows that pro-life groups appear to have more support on the site. In the first three pages of abortion-related fundraisers, there is only one result raising money for a project that is not explicitly anti-abortion. Of the 119 GoFundMe fundraisers that are related to abortion, less than a fourth were not explicitly anti-abortion, and none of those had met their fundraising goals. By contrast, several anti-abortion campaigns, including one to “to end abortion on all levels” in Minnesota and another that called to replace Planned Parenthood with a “life-affirming medical clinic” have both reached their funding goals. A campaign started by Personhood Alabama to raise awareness around the movement also reached its goal.
The language used on GoFundMe’s site implies that abortion is not supported. In its content guidelines, GoFundMe describes abortion as “termination of life” — language that implies fetal personhood, which is an argument used by the anti-abortion movement. The site also puts abortion related content in the same category as “ending the life of an animal,” equating a legal medical procedure with a crime that is a felony in 49 states.
And now, with its new policy prohibiting money to go towards abortion, GoFundMe is putting the procedure on the same level as other types of banned content, such as “criminal defense funds relating to violent, hateful or sexual acts,” pages associated with terrorist groups, and pages that are related to “rebel groups, militias, gangs or any organized violence.” Meanwhile, GoFundMe has allowed a page raising money for Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot unarmed teen Mike Brown, to stay up since August 17.
“Tell GoFundMe that women who seek abortion care aren’t just like terrorists and criminals,” NARAL Pro-Choice America says in a new petition to its supporters. “Sign the petition to tell GoFundMe to take abortion off its list of banned content.”
The ban is a large contrast to other major crowd-funding sites, such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which do not place restrictions on abortion-related content and where pro-choice groups have seen fundraising success.
Justin Kazmark, a member of Kickstarter’s communication team, told ThinkProgress that fundraisers are allowed as long as they follow the company’s three rules of “[creating] something to share with others…[being] honest and clearly presented and not [fundraising] for charity, offer financial incentives, or involve prohibited items.” Abortion or topics relating to abortion do not fall under Kickstarter’s prohibited items.
Compared to GoFundMe, pro-choice fundraising campaigns on Kickstarter appear to have a much higher level of success. Of nine successfully funded projects that had to do with abortion, only two were anti-choice. A Kickstarter campaign helped raise over $11,000 for the film After Tiller, which explores the lives of the last four doctors in the United States that preform late-term abortions. Earlier this year, Kickstarter refused to allow two anti-abortion filmmakers to fund their documentary about Kermit Gosnell due partly to the graphic language — “1000s of babies stabbed to death”” — that the directors used in their pitch. The filmmakers ended up raising over $2 million on Indiegogo.