Online searches for abortion medications soared after a Supreme Court draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade leaked in early May, according to an analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Researchers analyzed Google searches originating in the U.S. that mentioned terms like “abortion pill” or the medications “mifepristone/mifeprex” or “misoprostol/cytotec.” They pulled data from January 1, 2004 through May 8, 2022, and studied hourly search volumes 72 hours before and after the leak.
The analysis found “record national highs” for the abortion pill-related search terms, with about 350,000 searches during the week of May 1 through May 8. Researchers noted the search spike was “immediate” following the leak, and searches were 162% higher than expected in the 72 hour period following the draft’s release.
Additionally, abortion pill searches were higher in states that were more restrictive about reproductive rights or had less access to care. Nebraska has the highest cumulative search volume during the 72 hour period after the leak, with Iowa coming in second, followed by Missouri.
WHY IT MATTERS
Researchers noted that their study can’t confirm if any of these searches were linked to an actual abortion attempt or determine the demographic information of the people searching for abortion medication.
However, they said the increase should make physicians aware that their patients may decide to use abortion pills whether providers are involved or not.
“Although mifepristone/mifeprex or misoprostol/cytotec require a prescription and their use is restricted in some states, internet searches may reflect people exploring the safety and effectiveness of these medicines, how to obtain them or stockpiling in anticipation of curtailed access,” they wrote.
“Some searchers may be seeking substitute and/or illicit abortion medications as alternatives. It is imperative that information on where women can legally and safely obtain abortion medications be accessible online; including telemedicine consultations with healthcare professionals.”
THE LARGER TREND
Medication 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, medication abortion made up 54% of U.S. abortions in 2020, up from 37% in 2017.
Even before the Supreme Court’s final decision overturning Roe last week, many states already restricted access to medication abortions delivered through telehealth. Following the decision, Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that states could not ban the use of mifepristone as 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 there is something we can do, we will find it and we will do it at HHS. Indeed, that was the instruction I received from the president of the United States.”