Study Suggests Women Using Internet to Avoid Restrictive Abortion 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.

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.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

  • cycles

     This is a fascinating correlation, but I wonder how meaningful it is. You have to take one-word searches with a grain of salt, since they only indicate that the user was looking for “information” about that topic. Unless you can see the sites they clicked on after searching, you can’t know what kind of “information” they wanted.


    These search data are currently being used to detect and monitor emerging infectious diseases …


    That makes sense. If you’re worried about catching a disease, you would want to find out more about it. But, besides HIV, infectious diseases aren’t hot-button topics, and they’re rarely discussed outside of a healthcare prevention/treatment context (as opposed to the religious or political discussions around abortion).


    “… people with limited access to local abortion services are using the Internet to find providers outside their health system or outside their region …”

    You could just as easily make the argument that in regions with more restrictive abortion policies, the Googlers are looking for anti-abortion materials or information about the “evils” of abortion, or even just what is this terrible thing they’ve heard about called “abortion” (if it’s truly less common in their region).


    On the bright side, a web search of “abortion” will bring up a variety of pages that present multiple viewpoints. At the very least, the study indicates that people whose regions prohibit it have more curiosity about the procedure, which can mean that the web gives them an opportunity to learn about it from all sides.

  • waterjoe

    States with low abortion rates, more restrictive abortion laws, and few abortion providers tend to have a higher percentage of people who oppose abortion.  That would support the idea that a woman would use the internet to find “abortion” alternatives.  Many of those states are more rural, where finding about anything is more likely to start with the internet than a 100 mile drive.

    It is interesting data, but it really does not tell us much.