Interest in abortion medication surged after a May leak that the U.S. Supreme Court was likely to overturn Roe v Wade, a decision which gave constitutional protections to abortion in America.
Researchers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) found that Google searches for the term ‘abortion pill’ and for specific names of the drugs reached record levels in the days following the revelation the case would be overturned.
In the three days after the decision leaked searches jumped by a total of 162 percent.
The unprecedented leaking of the Supreme Court’s decision in early May sent shockwaves across the country, shaking the legal and political world. With many states already having ‘trigger laws’ on the books that would go into effect upon the decision, many scrambled to access the drugs while they still could.
Last week, the official decision from the court was revealed, opening the door for more than half of U.S. states to ban or restrict access to an abortion.
Online inquiries for abortion medication reached record levels after the Supreme Court’s Roe decision leaked in May
The 72 hour period directly after the Politico article dropped saw a massive surge in searches in particular
On May 2, Politico revealed the bombshell report that America’s highest court was planning on overturning the the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that protected abortion rights in the U.S.
The leaking of a Supreme Court decision – which justices later confirmed was legitimate – is unprecedented. Experts could not recall any similar example occurring in the court’s history.
Researchers, who published their findings Wednesday in JAMA Internal Medicine, gathered Google search data from January 2004 to May 8, 2002 – six days after the leak – for the study.
They found that searches like ‘abortion pill’ and others directly related to the drugs like ‘how to get misoprostol,’ ‘order abortion pills’ or ‘buy mifepristone’ surged to record levels.
In state’s with more restrictive rules, like those that have ‘trigger laws’ in place that either banned or heavily restricted abortion immediately upon Roe’s overturning the number of queries was even higher.
At home abortion pills are easy to use and require little medical supervision. Experts are still fearful of people circumventing do
‘In states with restrictive reproductive rights and where abortion will likely become criminalized, women appear more likely to search for abortion medications in the wake of the SCOTUS leak,’ Dr Adam Poliak, a professor from Bryn Mawr College in the Philadelphia area who took part in the research, said.
‘Although abortion medications require a prescription, women may be attempting to stockpile medication or hazardous black-market options in anticipation of curtailed access.’
Researchers believe this is partially because of some inherent shame or embarrassment some women have over inquiring about abortion.
‘Discussing abortion openly is not something many are eager to do,’ said Dr Eric Leas, a professor at UCSD who took part in the research.
‘But searching online is anonymous. By examining aggregate internet searches, decision makers can understand the needs of the public based on the content and timing of their queries.’
The research team warns that this data should also serve as a warning call for health officials as well.
Many fear that many women in states where the procedure is banned, and can not afford to travel out-of-state to receive it, will resort to dangerous at-home abortions.
While it is much safer now than it was before Roe to perform an abortion at home because of these widely available medications, there are still some risks to circumventing a doctor when making medical decisions.
‘Failure to meet the needs of online searchers may result in more unsafe abortion attempts,’ Dr Steffanie Strathdee, a distinguished professor at UCSD and study co-author, said.
‘Already 7 percent of women of reproductive age have attempted a self-managed abortion in their lifetimes and that figure could be on the rise following the SCOTUS decision.’
Planned Parenthood warns that using the pills can lead to heavy vaginal bleeding, blood clots, severe cramps and fever.
In these cases, women are advised to seek out medical attention. If a woman fears that she will get in trouble for illegally using abortion medication she may not do so, though.
‘Elevated interest in abortion medications should alert physicians that many of their patients may ultimately pursue abortions with or without them,’ Dr Davy Smith, a physician at UCSD and study co-author, said.