Opponents of abortion rights like to argue that they are saving lives by cutting off access to safe and legal abortion care. But a review of Google searches offers yet more evidence that these restrictions don’t stop abortion, they just make it more dangerous.
Google searches can help us understand what’s really going on. They show a hidden demand for self-induced abortion reminiscent of the era before Roe v. Wade.
This demand is concentrated in areas where it is most difficult to get an abortion, and it has closely tracked the recent state-level crackdowns on abortion.
In 2015, in the United States, there were about 119,000 searches for the exact phrase “how to have a miscarriage.” There were also searches for other variants — “how to self-abort” — and for particular methods. Over all, there were more than 700,000 Google searches looking into self-induced abortions in 2015.
The rise in searches for self-abortion lines up closely with the uptick on draconian anti-abortion laws:
The state with the highest rate of Google searches for self-induced abortions is Mississippi, which now has one abortion clinic. Eight of the 10 states with the highest search rates for self-induced abortions are considered by the Guttmacher Institute to be hostile or very hostile to abortion. None of the 10 states with the lowest search rates for self-induced abortion are in either category.
Search rates for self-induced abortion were fairly steady from 2004 through 2007. They began to rise in late 2008, coinciding with the financial crisis and the recession that followed. They took a big leap in 2011, jumping 40 percent. The Guttmacher Institute singles out 2011 as the beginning of the country’s recent crackdown on abortion; 92 provisions that restrict access to abortion were enacted. There was not a comparable increase in searches for self-induced abortions in Canada, which has not cracked down.
Of course it’s difficult to know exactly how many women attempt to self-abort given the stigma around abortion and the desperation that brings people to this point. But the New York Times piece points out that there is a difference in the birth rate that is not fully explained by legal abortions. The fact that women are searching for “how to do a coat hanger abortion and abortion through bleaching uteruses or punching one’s stomach gives us a stark picture of what is at stake in the abortion rights case that was heard at the Supreme Court last week. Regardless of the outcome of that case, we need to keep fighting against these anti-choice attacks and never revert to the dangerous pre-Roe back alley.