Overview: The number of searches for abortion drugs peaked within a time frame of POLITICO publishing the leak of the SCOTUS ruling, with searches rising 162% during the first 72 hours after the leak. Researchers say there were significantly more searches for abortion drugs in the first 72 hours in states threatening more restrictive reproductive rights.
Source: Increased Science Communication
There has been widespread speculation about the possible consequences of a leaked draft decision by the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) Roe v. Wade†
A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine directed by dr. John W. Ayers from the Qualcomm Institute at the University of California San Diego and dr. Adam Poliak of Bryn Mawr College, finds evidence of record high demand for abortion drugs in the wake of the leak of the draft SCOTUS ruling.
The results predict changes that could come as federal and state laws change in the wake of the now-released ruling.
Identifying trends in abortion drug demand
The research team analyzed Google searches indicating “abortion pill” or specific drug names (mifepristone/mifeprex, misoprostol/cytotec) that originated from the United States from January 1, 2004 to May 8, 2022. misoprostol’, ‘order abortion pills’ or ‘buy mifepristone’.
“Discussing abortion openly isn’t something many are eager to do,” says Dr. Eric Leas, an assistant professor at the UC San Diego Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science, co-founder of Data Driven Health at the Qualcomm Institute, and study co-author.
“But online searches are anonymous. By examining aggregated searches on the web, decision-makers can understand the needs of the public based on the content and timing of their searches.”
Evaluating trends before and after the SCOTUS draft opinion has been leakedthe team found that Internet searches for abortion drugs hit record highs, and searches were more common in states with more restrictive reproductive rights.
The number of searches for abortion drugs peaked the hour Politico published the leaked draft SCOTUS ruling online, with searches rising 162 percent during the 72 hours after the leak compared to before. In addition, there were significantly more abortion drug searches than ever recorded (since January 1, 2004).
In practical terms, there were an estimated 350,000 searches for abortion drugs in the United States in the week of the SCOTUS ruling alone.
There were significantly more searches (after adjusting for population size) in states with more restrictive reproductive rights in the 72 hours after the leak. States that have received insufficient grades (F) from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research’s “Reproductive Rights Index”had 163 percent more searches than states with an A grade.
The institute assigns a grade to each state based on access to abortions, state funding for abortions, the percentage of women living in counties with a physician providing abortion services, and other characteristics.
“In states with restrictive reproductive rights and where abortion is likely to be criminalized, women seem more likely to seek abortion medications in the wake of the SCOTUS leak,” added Dr. Poliak, assistant professor of computer science at Bryn Mawr College and lead author of the study.
“While abortion medications require a prescription, women may attempt to black-market drugs or dangerous options pending restricted access.”
A call to action to tackle women’s health in the wake of the SCOTUS leak
“A heightened interest in abortion drugs should warn doctors that many of their patients may end up having abortions with or without them,” said Dr. Davey Smith, a physician scientist and chief of the UC San Diego Division of Infectious Disease and Global Public Health and study co-author.
“Failing to meet the needs of online searchers can lead to more unsafe abortion attempts,” noted Dr. Steffanie Strathdee, Distinguished Professor in the UC San Diego Division of Infectious Disease and Global Public Health and co-author of the study at.
“Already 7 percent of women of childbearing age have attempted a self-managed abortion in their lifetime and that number could rise after the SCOTUS decision.”
The team notes that educating people about how to get abortion medications legally and safely is a strategy to prevent an increase in unsafe abortion attempts. “Accessible information on abortion medication should be a priority online; including encouraging evidence-based telehealth for those seeking abortion medications,” said Nora Satybaldiyeva, a UC San Diego doctoral student and co-author of the study.
“Providing abortion medication via telehealth under the care of a physician is a safe alternative to personal care, especially for women in states where abortion will be illegal.”
Predicting Changes When Abortion Laws Change
The changes observed during the study may predict what changes will come if the SCOTUS ruling is implemented and the state’s abortion laws change.
The team speculates how these needs will be met in the future, especially when President Joe Biden declared women would continue have access to abortion medication following the SCOTUS ruling.
“Women in states where abortion is illegal or extremely difficult to access may be forced online to access outside abortion services, such as abortion medications,” Ms Satybaldiyeva added.
“As abortion policies change and new laws are enacted, priority must be given to research that tracks the needs of the public in near real time to inform responsive public health strategies,” concluded Dr. Ayers, co-founder of Data Driven Health at the Qualcomm Institute and Vice Chief of Innovation in the Division of Infectious Disease and Global Public Health, both at UC San Diego, and senior author of the study.
“Investments in public health monitoring systems that track abortion-related needs could become an integral part of supporting women’s rights.”
About this research news on psychology and reproductive rights
Original research: Closed access.
†Internet Searches for Abortion Drugs Following Leaked United States Supreme Court Draft Ruling” by John Ayers et al. JAMA Internal Medicine
Internet Searches for Abortion Drugs Following Leaked United States Supreme Court Draft Ruling
On May 2, 2022, a majority opinion draft of the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) was leaked, foreshadowing the decision to overturn the 1973 decision. Roe V Wade and allows states to further restrict or ban abortions.
Concerns about losing access to legal abortions may lead the public to educate themselves on how to get abortion services.
We evaluated whether Internet searches for abortion drugs increased after the leak.