Abortion Pill Web Searches Surged After Leaked SCOTUS Decision

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Internet searches on abortion medication spiked to “record national highs” following the leak of the draft Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade, researchers reported.

In the 72 hours following the leaked draft on May 2, searches related to abortion medications were 162% (95% CI 149-175) higher than expected, with approximately 350,000 searches for abortion medication occurring during the week of the leaked draft, according to John Ayers, PhD, of Qualcomm Institute in La Jolla, California, and co-authors.

States with more restrictive abortion laws saw the highest volume of searches, with Nebraska and Iowa taking the top spots, the authors wrote in their research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers pulled from Google search trends from 2004 through May 8, 2022, looking at terms such as “abortion pill” and also specific medications such as mifepristone (Mifeprex) or misoprostol (Cytotec). They used Comscore estimates to analyze the weekly national trends throughout the 18-year period. The team then created estimates to predict what search trends would look like following the draft leak.

The 72 hours before and after the leak was made public were isolated for study, and the jump in searches was “immediate,” the investigators said. According to the authors, this surge in internet searches is a clear indication of the reactions of those impacted by the leak, and the eventual decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Although mifepristone or misoprostol “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,” Ayers and colleagues wrote.

“Continued surveillance is needed to monitor how changes in federal and state abortion laws affect demand for information about abortion medications and other medical interventions,” the team said.

Google provides relative search volumes (RSVs) ranging from 0 to 100. Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri rounded out the top with RSVs of 100, 70, and 44, respectively; while Alaska, Wyoming, and Hawaii occupied the bottom, at 27, 27, and 25.

A relationship was observed between states that received poor Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) grades — based on indicators for reproductive rights in the state — and average RSV:

  • A: RSV 33
  • B: RSV 35
  • C: RSV 37
  • D: RSV 38
  • F: RSV 54

According to the IWPR, these indicators can include “access to abortion services without mandatory parental consent or notification laws for minors, access to abortion services without a waiting period, public funding for abortions if a woman is income eligible, the percent of women living in counties with at least one abortion provider, whether the governor and state legislature are pro-choice, whether states have adopted the Medicaid expansion under the [Affordable Care Act] and/or expanded eligibility for Medicaid family planning services,” and more.

The study does have limitations, the team noted, since the demographics for those searching for abortion medications could not be determined. Searches also could not be directly tied to any attempts to receive an abortion.

“Nonetheless, elevated interest in abortion medications should alert physicians that many of their patients may pursue this option with or without them,” Ayers and co-authors stated.

“Some searchers may be seeking substitute and/or illicit abortion medications as alternatives,” they wrote. “It is imperative that information on where women can legally and safely obtain abortion medications be accessible online; including telemedicine consultations with health care professionals.”

Disclosures

Ayers reported relationships with Good Analytics and HealthWatcher. Coauthors disclosed support from or relationships with the NIH/NIAID, Bayer, FluxErgy, Kiadis, Linear Therapies, Model Medicines, and Vx Biosciences.

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