The Texas Right to Life group’s abortion whistleblower website has been inaccessible for many users today; instead of displaying its anonymous tip page, the website is instead showing a 503 error and telling users they’ve been blocked. The message given explaining the reason for the block varies based on whether the user is out of state or using a VPN.
The Texas Right to Life group’s tips website allows anyone — including those who are out of state — to submit a tip about a suspected law-violating abortion or about anyone who they think helped facilitate the procedure. The website went live on September 1 and the Internet quickly mobilized to take it down.
The website has been flooded with fake tips from hacktivists who aim to overwhelm the system and provide so many fake tips that it’ll be impossible to investigate them all. Yesterday, the site’s former host GoDaddy gave the company 24 hours to leave its platform, citing terms of service violation.
The group did switch to a different host, but doing so may have caused turmoil behind the scenes. Many people report being unable to access the tip website, instead seeing a message that reads, “Your access to this site has been limited by the site owner,” followed by a 503 error code.
The website reveals that Right to Life is using the security plugin Wordfence to help secure the website against hacktivists. Likewise, users are given different reasons for why they’ve been banned from accessing the website.
When I accessed the website with my out-of-state connection, the tips website displayed the block reason, “Access from your area has been temporarily limited for security reasons.” However, when I attempted to access the site using a VPN set to Texas, and then again changed to Houston, the message changed, reading, “Accessed a banned URL.”
On September 3 at 6 PM EST, the Texas Right to Life group said in a tweet that it was in the process of transferring its website assets to another host and that it would restore its website “within 24-48” hours. It’s unclear whether the website will continue to block users on VPNs after fully restored.