July 1, 2022 – Word that the U.S. Supreme Court was on the verge of overturning Roe v. Wade led to a dramatic spike in web searches for abortion medications, a new study shows.
On May 2, 2022, Politico leaked a draft majority opinion that revealed the court intended to reverse the guaranteed right to choose to have an abortion.
During the week of the leak, May 1 to May 8, Google recorded 350,000 internet searches for abortion medications, the greatest number since the search company began collecting data in 2004, according to the findings published June 29 in JAMA Internal Medicine.
“While we can't be 100% certain of the intent behind these searches, they might be that women are trying to find out how safe and effective these pills are or how to obtain these pills,” said Adam Poliak, PhD, a professor of computer science at Bryn Mawr College, in Bryn Mawr, PA, and co-author of the study. “People might be looking to stockpile these pills once abortion becomes illegal or they are looking for alternative methods.”
Poliak and his colleagues examined Google search trends mentioning “abortion pill” or abortion medications including mifepristone (Mifeprex) and misoprostol (Cytotec).
Reproductive rights laws vary widely from state to state. This patchwork is continuing after the court’s ruling last Friday to overturn Roe, with some states banning abortion outright and others severely restricting it. Poliak’s group assigned each state a grade from A to F, based on state restrictions.
Internet searches for abortion medications were more common in states with lower grades, or more restrictions, including Nebraska (F), Iowa (C), and Missouri (D), which all had the highest number of searches that week, the researchers reported.
“Elevated interest in abortion medications should alert physicians that many of their patients may pursue this option with or without them,” Poliak and his colleagues wrote.
Medical abortions now account for more than half of pregnancy terminations in this country, according to the Guttmacher Institute. A previous study published in JAMA Network Open found that almost 7% of U.S. women between the ages of 18 and 49 have attempted a self-managed abortion, including eating herbs and putting foreign objects into the uterus. Poliak and other experts predict that the reversal of Roe may lead to a rise in potentially harmful abortion attempts. The court’s decision should put doctors on high alert for the safety of their patients, he said.