Yelp is suing Texas to ensure it can continue to tell users that crisis pregnancy centers listed on its site do not provide abortions or abortion referrals, opening a new front in the fight between states and the tech industry over abortion restrictions.
In a complaint filed Wednesday in San Francisco federal court, Yelp said it is suing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton preemptively, to head off a lawsuit it anticipates from his office as soon as Friday that may seek to bar Yelp from applying its labels to crisis pregnancy centers.
Yelp said it currently applies the following label to crisis pregnancy center listings: “This is a Crisis Pregnancy Center. Crisis Pregnancy Centers do not offer abortions or referrals to abortion providers.”
Yelp’s complaint said its labels are based on a manual evaluation of “thousands of business pages” on its site and reflect truthful statements. But Paxton’s impending lawsuit threatens to silence Yelp and infringe on the company’s First Amendment rights, the complaint alleges.
The preemptive lawsuit from one of the internet’s largest user review platforms highlights how the Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn Roe v. Wade has had ripple effects for tech companies.
Democratic lawmakers have previously faulted Google, for example, for not doing enough to remove crisis pregnancy centers from search results for abortion clinics, amid concerns that internet users seeking abortion services may be misled to facilities that do not offer medical care.
The Federal Trade Commission, meanwhile, has stepped up its scrutiny of data brokers and fertility apps over concerns that leakage of users’ personal data could result in law enforcement obtaining that information for abortion prosecutions.
According to Wednesday’s complaint, Paxton formally notified Yelp of his intent to sue as recently as last week and that the state would be seeking fines for alleged violations of Texas’ Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
Yelp argues that its labels for crisis pregnancy centers are not deceptive and that Paxton himself had publicly commended the disclosures as “accurate” in a February press release.
Paxton’s earlier praise for the label came after he alleged that an earlier version of Yelp’s label had been misleading, according to the complaint. Yelp said the initial label had described crisis pregnancy centers as “typically provid[ing] limited medical services and may not have licensed medical professionals onsite.”
In the complaint, Yelp said it agreed to clarify its labels at the time despite believing (then as well as now) that the original label had been “truthful and not misleading.”
Yelp’s lawsuit asks the court to affirm that its labeling of crisis pregnancy centers was not misleading and that it was an exercise of constitutionally protected speech. It also asks the court to block Texas from suing over the labels in the future.