Last week, the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List), a nonprofit organization whose primary focus is ending abortion in the U.S., ran two separate Facebook ads encouraging viewers to vote "pro-life” in the upcoming election. Both ads were shut down by the social network due to "sensational or graphic content."
The content? Ultrasound images and pictures from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
The ads were centered on two children, Charlotte Ryun and Micah Pickering, who both survived premature birth and were born at gestational ages when abortion is allowed in some states. But according to SBA List, the ads were unexpectedly disapproved—which the organization says was an attempt to "stifle pro-life free speech" a couple of weeks before midterm elections.
"It is a direct contradiction of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s public pledge that she would not censor pro-life free speech, even if she disagreed with it," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List, in a statement.
Facebook, on the other hand, defended its decision by telling the group via email: “We don’t allow ads that depict medical procedures or conditions (ex: surgeries, open wounds, injections)," presumably referring to the ultrasounds and NICU images, which are routinely posted on the personal feeds of Facebook users.
Facebook added that ads are "held to a higher standard than individual user's posts," which is why something like an ultrasound or NICU picture could cause an ad to be deleted. They also claimed to have no official position on the abortion debate.
Both videos, which were also shared on Twitter, feature testimony, ultrasound footage and photos from both sets of parents. In the first ad, Becca Ryan recalls waking in the middle of the night—bleeding and in pain—when she was 23 weeks pregnant.
"I did think, when I saw the blood, that we were probably losing the baby,” she said as a video lens zooms in on a monitor, showing the sonogram image of a motionless baby.
“Doctors just came in and said, ‘You have a choice. You want to try and keep her?'" Becca’s husband, Ryan, recalled. “My daughter, Charlotte, was born at 24 weeks.”
The ad goes on, sharing photos of an older Charlotte, and encouraging those who advocate for late-term abortions to take a look their daughter before voting.
The second ad is the story of Micah Pickering, born prematurely after his mother’s water mysteriously broke.
“At 22 weeks, Micah was delivered,” said his mom, Danielle Pickering. At the time, no one knew if he would survive.
Thankfully, Micah did survive, and is seen joyfully running through the grass, pushing a toy lawnmower.
Ideals aside, Mallory Quigley, an SBA List representative, told the Washington Free Beacon that there was nothing “offensive or sensational” about the stories depicted in the videos.
"They are simply powerful, real stories of children, Micah and Charlotte, who were born prematurely," she said. "Our nation’s laws permit abortion at the same gestational age at which these children were born and, thankfully, provided lifesaving care."
According to Quigley, Facebook is censoring their campaign and slowing them down in the final days ahead of the election, and Dan Gainor, vice president at the conservative watchdog group Media Research Center, hints that she may be on to something.
“We don't want them to limit speech," he said, "We want them to allow it."