Online searches for abortion drugs have skyrocketed after a The draft Supreme Court decision quashing Roe v. Wade was leaked in early May, according to an analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine†
Researchers analyzed Google searches from the US that listed terms like “abortion pill” or the drugs “mifepristone/mifeprex” or “misoprostol/cytotec.” They collected data from January 1, 2004 to May 8, 2022 and studied search volumes per hour 72 hours before and after the leak.
The analysis found “record national highs” for the search terms related to the abortion pill, with about 350,000 searches in the week of May 1 through May 8. Researchers noted that the search peak was “immediate” after the leak, and searches were 162% higher than expected in the 72-hour period after the concept’s release.
In addition, the number of searches for abortion pills was higher in states that were more restrictive on reproductive rights or had less access to care. Nebraska has the highest cumulative search volume for the 72 hours after the leak, with Iowa in second place, followed by Missouri.
WHY IT MATTER
Researchers noted that their research cannot confirm whether any of these searches were related to an actual abortion attempt or determine the demographic information of the people seeking abortion medications.
However, they said the increase should make doctors aware that their patients can decide to use abortion pills regardless of whether health care providers are involved or not.
While mifepristone/mifeprex or misoprostol/cytotec require a prescription and have limited use in some states, Internet searches may reflect people researching the safety and effectiveness of these drugs, how to obtain them, or pending restricted access,” they wrote. †
“Some seekers may be looking for substitute and/or illegal abortion medications as an alternative. It is imperative that information about where women can legally and safely obtain abortion medications is accessible online, including telemedicine consultations with healthcare professionals.”
THE BIGGER TREND
Medicated abortion has steadily grown in popularity since the FDA approved mifepristone as a method of abortion in 2000. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research institute that supports abortion rights, drug abortion accounted for 54% of U.S. abortions in 2020, up from 37% in 2017.
Even before the The Supreme Court’s final decision overturning Roe last week has already restricted access to medical abortions via telehealth in many states. After the decision, Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that states could not ban the use of mifepristone since the drug has been approved by the FDA.
On Tuesday, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said the agency will support access to medication abortion, safe travel to states that allow abortions and health privacy.
“There is no magic bullet,” Becerra said. “But if we can do something, we will find it and we will do it at HHS. Indeed, that was the instruction I was given by the President of the United States.”