Study Suggests Women Using Internet to Avoid Restrictive Abortion Policies

Amie Newman

Regions with more restrictive abortion policies and lower abortion rates have more google searches for the word "abortion." Researchers at Children's Hospital share their latest findings and posit why there may be a link between googling the term "abortion" and their desire to circumvent restrictive health and human rights policies.

Researchers at Children’s Hospital in Boston found an interesting correlation between users who google the word “abortion” and abortion policies and rates in particular regions of the world.

According to a press release on the study,

The researchers analyzed one year’s worth of summary search statistics for the 50 U.S. states and 37 countries, representing millions of anonymous searches. They found that states and countries with lower abortion rates and less permissive abortion policies had higher search volumes for the single word “abortion.” Conversely, states and countries with higher abortion rates and more permissive abortion policies had lower “abortion” search volumes.

For instance, in my home state of Washington, with our progressive abortion laws (we have our own state version of Roe v. Wade essentially and no other restrictions on legal abortion access), the number of google searches on “abortion” is relatively low. In states like North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Kentucky, searches on “abortion” are high, while rates of abortion are relatively low and abortion policies are more restrictive. If women do not have access to the care they seek, and can access said care free from stigma and fear, they’re more likely to turn to more private settings like the internet. Check out these maps for more.

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Researchers suggest potential reasons for the inverse relationship,

Abortion search volume was significantly higher in states where fewer than 10 percent of counties had providers, and in those with a mandatory waiting period, mandatory counseling, mandatory parental notification for minors, or mandatory parental consent for minors.

Geographically, the researchers saw lower “abortion” search volumes in U.S. coastal states, where abortion rates are higher, than in non-coastal states. Similarly, South American countries with conservative abortion policies sharply contrasted with Eastern European countries having more permissive abortion policies.

“One possible explanation for these inverse relationships is that people with limited access to local abortion services are using the Internet to find providers outside their health system or outside their region, while people with more access are able to go through standard local healthcare channels to find an abortion provider,” Brownstein said.

The study concludes that the findings are “consistent with published evidence that local restrictions on abortion lead individuals to seek abortion services outside of their area.” It’s something reproductive health and rights advocates have known for years. Abortion restrictions simply force women into seeking abortion care outside of their locality or push them to take situations into their own hands.

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