Web Searches for Abortion-Linked Terms Soared After Roe v. Wade Overturned

WEDNESDAY, May 3, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a woman's constitutional right to abortion in June, internet searches for information related to abortion and contraception surged.

Searches for abortion-related terms increased much more in U.S. states where access to reproductive health care faced imminent restrictions, according to a new study.

Lead researcher Sumedha Gupta, an associate professor of economics at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis (IUPUI), said it's still fairly early to gauge actual changes in access to and utilization of reproductive health care as a result of the ruling.

“But Google search trends are often strong early predictors of subsequent health care access and utilization changes,” Gupta said in a university news release.

“The increase in abortion- and contraception-related internet searches following the decision may be an early indicator of greater concerns about impending restrictions in access to reproductive care among residents of states with trigger laws or pre-Roe bans relative to residents of states where reproductive access is protected," she said. Trigger laws are written to go into effect when the condition occurs.

The landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which the Court declared in 1973, held that the U.S. Constitution generally protected a woman's right to abortion. The decision to overturn it was leaked in draft form on May 2, 2022. The final ruling to overturn Roe followed on June 24, 2022 in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Researchers examined search data for Jan. 1, 2021 through July 16, 2022. In each state with pre-Roe abortion bans or trigger laws (imposing restrictions as the result of a Supreme Court ruling), searches for abortion-related terms rose from more than 16,000 to more than 75,000 per 10 million searches per week before and after the May leak. That was 42% higher than in states with laws protecting abortion access.

Then, during the week of the final decision in June, abortion-related searches surged to more than 150,000 per 10 million searches per week in states with trigger laws or pre-Roe abortion bans.

That compared to more than 100,000 searches per 10 million in other states. Researchers noted this showed a 61% increase in search intensity in states where abortion access would be immediately restricted as a result of the Supreme Court ruling.

Increases in contraception-related searches also rose. These grew from more than 56,000 per week to more than 82,000 in each state where abortion bans immediately took effect. That was 25% more than in states where abortion was protected.

“Further research would help understand if the increased search behavior seen here is related to searching for out-of-state health care, given this new difference in geography of reproductive health care access,” said study co-author Kosali Simon, a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Researchers said their findings could be used to inform ongoing policy decisions about abortion access and care.

The findings were published May 1 in JAMA Health Forum.

More information

KFF has some facts on abortion in the United States.

SOURCE: Indiana University, news release, May 1, 2023

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