............................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 700,000 searches included about 160,000 asking how to get abortion pills through unofficial channels — searches like “buy abortion pills online” and “free abortion pills.”There were tens of thousands of searches looking into abortion by herbs like parsley or by vitamin C. There were some 4,000 searches looking for directions on coat hanger abortions, including about 1,300 for the exact phrase “how to do a coat hanger abortion.” There were also a few hundred looking into abortion through bleaching one’s uterus and punching one’s stomach.
Those last methods are not recommended.
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, we cannot know from Google searches how many women successfully give themselves abortions, but evidence suggests that a significant number may. One way to test this is to compare abortion and birth data.In 2011, the last year with complete state-level abortion data, women living in states with few abortion clinics had many fewer legal abortions.Compare the 10 states with the most abortion clinics per capita (a list that includes New York and California) to the 10 states with the fewest abortion clinics per capita (a list that includes Mississippi and Oklahoma).
I remember from back in the pre-Roe day long phone conversations about some of these methods with an increasingly frantic friend; we only had anecdote and old wives tales for guidance. Fortunately, for my friend, it proved to be a false alarm. But for hundreds of thousands of people trapped in states hostile to abortion, google is their new best friend. But please, please, please, stay away from bleach.Women living in states with the fewest abortion clinics had 54 percent fewer legal abortions — a difference of 11 abortions for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44.Women living in states with the fewest abortion clinics also had more live births. However, the difference was not enough to make up for the lower number of abortions. There were six more live births for every 1,000 women of childbearing age.In other words, there appear to have been some missing pregnancies in parts of the country where it was hardest to get an abortion. Self-induced abortions could be playing a role, although more research must be done on rates of pregnancy and unintentional miscarriage in different regions.One recent survey in Texas also reported a surprisingly high number of attempted self-induced abortions. It found that 4.1 percent of Texas women were sure or suspected that their best friend had tried a self-induced abortion. The researchers asked about best friends because women may not feel comfortable admitting their own attempts. In fact, so much secrecy surrounds abortion today that it is likely that many women would not know that their closest friends had tried a self-induced abortion.