Google searches for self-induced abortions are on the rise, according to a harrowing New York Times report. The story hypothesizes that the rise of these searches is tied to recent abortion clinic shutdowns as a result of anti-abortion laws being passed around the country. And this is really scary news—it’s a chilling reminder of what life was like in the United States prior to Roe v. Wade, the groundbreaking 1973 Supreme Court case that held that a woman’s right to choose is a constitutional guarantee.
In the 1950s and 1960s, there were between 200,000 and 1.2 million cases of illegal or self-induced abortions in the United States, according to estimates from the Guttmacher Institute. In that timeframe, around 200 to 300 women died from complications of those abortions each year. Compare that to the Center of Disease Control‘s 2012 abortion surveillance report, which states that in 2011 there were no known deaths associated with illegal or self-induced abortion.
These Google searches are on the rise in states where it is most difficult to actually get a safe, legal abortion. The reason for the disparity is thanks to Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws, which attempt to limit abortion by making clinics meet various standards like being close to a hospital, allegedly in the name of patient safety—in spite of the fact that doctors and experts vehemently disagree with that description. What happens when these laws are passed is simple: abortion clinics shut down, and women have fewer places where they can access safe and legal abortion in their state. Some women have to drive hours in order to reach the nearest abortion clinic, and that says nothing of how many visits they need to go on before being able to have the procedure.
On March 2, the Supreme Court heard Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a monumental case on one of those exact TRAP laws, House Bill 2 (HB2). HB2 passed in Texas in 2013 and contributed to the closure of more than half of the state’s 41 clinics. The situation would likely get even more drastic if the Supreme Court declares HB2 constitutional, as all doctors at Texas abortion clinics would need to have admitting privileges at a hospital 30 minutes or less away. All clinics would also need to conform to the standards of ambulatory surgical centers.
The New York Times report by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz analyzes how these types of TRAP laws may influence interest in self-induced abortion. Although it’s often difficult to point-blank ask people about their abortion experiences and receive completely honest answers, Google searches shed some light on the subject. “They show a hidden demand for self-induced abortion reminiscent of the era before Roe v. Wade,” Stephens-Davidowitz writes. Unsurprisingly, the interest in self-induced abortions is most evident in places where legal obstacles have made it hard to access safe, lawful abortions, and those levels of interest have spiked when bills banning or limiting abortion.