chart of abortion restrictions and google searches over time

There were 700,000 Google searches for self-inducing an abortion in the US last year

There have been a few studies — and plenty of anecdotal evidence — pointing to an uptick in self-induced abortion attempts as the result of dwindling access to legal abortion in many states. Now an economist at The New York Times looks at what Google search patterns reveal about the trend. 

Last year, there were more than 700,000 Google searches in the United States looking into self-induced abortions. These included about 119,000 searches for the phrase “how to have a miscarriage”; 160,000 for things like “buy abortion pills online” and “free abortion pills”; 4,000 looking for directions on coat hanger abortions, including — horrifyingly — about 1,300 for the exact phrase “how to do a coat hanger abortion.”

These kinds of searches were less common a decade ago but increased by 40 percent in 2011 — the year that state abortion restrictions hit record-breaking levels. Most tellingly, there’s a clear correlation between the states with the least access to legal abortion and the states with the most Google searches for DIY alternatives. “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.”

chart of abortion restrictions and google searches over time

Of course, these numbers can’t be taken as a evidence of how many people actually tried to self-abort, but the author points out there’s a discrepancy between the decrease in the abortion rate in states with fewer clinics and the increase in the birth rate in those states in recent years — perhaps the fact that some women are successfully self-inducing explains some of that gap.

It goes without saying that it’s outrageous that any person, in 2015, in a country where abortion is supposedly a constitutionally protected right, is forced to try to end their pregnancy on their own. However, if you or anyone you know is in that position and googling for things like coat hangers, bleach, and punching yourself in the stomach, know that there is information out there on how to do it safely and effectively: check out this guide or this one.

Image credit: Bill Marsh/The New York Times

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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