The demand for information about how to self-induce an abortion “has risen to a disturbing level,” according to a New York Times analysis that examined more than 700,000 Google searches across the country in 2015.
New York Times contributor Seth Stephens-Davidowitz crunched the numbers and found a correlation between online searches related to illegal pregnancy terminations — including search terms like “home abortion methods,” “buy abortion pills online,” “free abortion pills,” and “how to do a coat hanger abortion” — and states with harsh abortion restrictions.
When tracking these abortion-related search terms between 2005 and 2015, Stephens-Davidowitz noticed a significant increase in search traffic in 2011 — the same year that marked a sharp uptick in anti-abortion legislation on the state level. And in the swaths of the South and the Midwest where reproductive health clinics are closing at a rapid pace, Stephens-Davidowitz observed a higher rate of interest in self-induced abortion.
The findings may offer a window into the desperate measures that some women consider when legal abortion options are out of reach to them.
Stephens-Davidowitz writes that, although his data is preliminary, these Google searches “show a hidden demand for self-induced abortion reminiscent of the era before Roe v. Wade.”
It’s difficult to obtain accurate information about self-induced abortion in the United States, though some researchers have recently tried to start tracking it in states that are particularly hostile to reproductive health. One study examining Texas, where a stringent law that’s forced dozens of clinics to close is currently before the Supreme Court, estimated that at least 100,000 women there have attempted to induce their own abortion.
Reproductive rights proponents point to this emerging evidence to argue that laws like Texas’ are actively harming women’s health — which directly contradicts the stated purpose of the policy, whose supporters say is necessary to safeguard patients.
“Many women now face insurmountable barriers to access basic health care, like waiting weeks for an abortion, having to drive hundreds of miles to access care, and sometimes resorting to inducing their own abortion without medical supervision,” Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement in response to Stephens-Davidowitz’s findings. “The evidence is loud and clear: these restrictions hurt women.”