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At a time when abortion access is threatened, Google search data shows America’s growing interest in at-home abortions

May 18, 2022
By: School of Public Health
Person on a video call with another person wearing a mask, presumably a doctor

 

As access barriers to in-person abortion care increase due to legal restrictions and COVID-19–related disruptions, individuals are turning to the Internet for information on out-of-clinic and at-home medication abortions.

Medication abortion via pills administered at 10 weeks’ gestation or less is considered a safe and effective method for pregnancy termination, both in clinics with provider supervision and when delivered remotely via telemedicine. Many women may choose home abortions for privacy, affordability, and convenience.

To find out how much interest there is in at-home medication abortions, researchers from UC Berkeley analyzed Google searches during 2020—the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic—to determine the extent to which people searched for out-of-clinic medication abortions in the U.S. through three initial search terms: home abortion, self abortion, and buy abortion pill online.

The researchers found that the average relative search index (RSI) for searches for the term “home abortion” were three times higher than “self abortion” and almost four times higher than “buy abortion pill online.”

“Google searches are a novel way of understanding population level health concerns and needs in real-time or near-time,” said Sylvia Guendelman, PhD, MSW, co-author of the study, which was published in JMIR Infodemiology.

“The data showed that that interest in home medication abortions is especially high for those that include some clinical support, most often through telemedicine, rather than self-induced abortions or self-procurement of medications to induce abortions,” said Guendelman. “Notably, home abortion searches were most popular in states with restricted abortion access such as Arizona, Missouri, Arkansas, Indiana, and Kentucky. These findings suggest that the Supreme Court’s predisposition to overturn Roe v Wade may be out of step with the concerns and needs of the U.S. population.”

Co-authors include Sylvia Guendelman and Elizabeth Pleasants of the Wallace Center for Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health at UC Berkeley School of Public Health, Coye Cheshire of the UC Berkeley School of Information, and Ashley Kong of the Computing, Data Science, and Society Program at UC Berkeley.

Read the full paper at JMIR Infodemiology.