Internet searches for drug abortion hit record highs after Supreme Court leak

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine on Wednesday, found there was more-than-expected search traffic for each of the 72 hours following the leak.

Medicated abortion, also known as pill abortion or medical abortion, is a method of ending a pregnancy by taking two pills, rather than undergoing surgery. A February study from the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights think tank, found that by 2020, an estimated 54% of U.S. abortions were using this method.

For the study, researchers from Bryn Mawr and the University of California, San Diego, studied Google search trends, including the words “abortion pill” and the names of the actual abortion medication — mifepristone/mifeprex, misoprostol/Cytotec. They looked at data from January 1, 2004, when Google began collecting the information, through May 8, 2022.

The post-leak period “represents the highest number of Google searches for abortion drugs in the U.S.,” with approximately 350,000 Internet searches for the week of May 1 to May 8.

States with highly restrictive abortion laws saw a larger spike in searches. Nebraska had the highest cumulative search traffic in the 72 hours after the decision was leaked, followed by Iowa and Missouri.

The study cannot confirm whether someone was trying to get their hands on the pills or whether they were just trying to educate themselves about the pills. The researchers noted that the pills require a prescription and their use is restricted in some states, but “Internet searches may reflect people researching the safety and effectiveness of these drugs, how to obtain them, or stockpile pending restricted access.”

“Increased interest in abortion medications should alert physicians that many of their patients may pursue this option with or without them,” the study said. “It is imperative that information about where women can legally and safely obtain abortion medication is accessible online, including telemedicine consultations with health care professionals.”

Since the Supreme Court decision quashing Roe v. Wade, some organizations that supply the drugs say they have already seen increased demand for them. This week, Xavier Becerra, secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, pledged to protect access to reproductive health care, including possible steps to increase access to drug abortion.

Becerra’s announcement on Tuesday included some concrete steps to change the landscape of abortion access as abortion rights are no longer guaranteed at the federal level, but he urged his department to strive to do more.

“To any American affected, I apologize that, as I said, we can’t tell you there is a silver bullet. But what I’m telling you is that the more we dig, we’ll do everything we can with what we find to make sure we protect women’s reproductive health,” he said.

Virginia Langmaid and Jamie Gumbrecht of CNN Health contributed to this report.

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