Exploring Google Searches for Out-of-Clinic Medication Abortion in the United States During 2020: Infodemiology Approach Using Multiple Samples
Guendelman Sylvia, Pleasants Elizabeth, Cheshire Coye, Kong Ashley. "Exploring Google Searches for Out-of-Clinic Medication Abortion in the United States During 2020: Infodemiology Approach Using Multiple Samples". JMIR Infodemiology 2022;2(1):e33184. doi: 10.2196/33184
As access barriers to in-person abortion care increase due to legal restrictions and COVID-19–related disruptions, individuals may be turning to the internet for information and services on out-of-clinic medication abortions. Google searches allow us to explore timely population-level interest in this topic and assess its implications. We examined the extent to which people searched for out-of-clinic medication abortions in the United States in 2020 through 3 initial search terms: home abortion, self abortion, and buy abortion pill online. Using the Google Trends website, we estimated the relative search index (RSI)—a comparative measure of search popularity—for each initial search term and determined trends and its peak value between January 1, 2020, and January 1, 2021. Searches for home abortion had average RSIs that were 3 times higher than self abortion and almost 4 times higher than buy abortion pill online. Interest in home abortion peaked in November 2020, during the third pandemic wave, at a time when providers could dispense medication abortion using telemedicine and by mail. Home abortion was most frequently queried by searching for Planned Parenthood, abortion pill, and abortion clinic, presumably denoting varying degrees of clinical support. Consistently lower search popularity for self abortion and buy abortion pill online reflect less population interest in mostly or completely self-managed out-of-clinic abortions. We observed the highest interest for home abortion and self abortion in states hostile to abortion, suggesting that state restrictions encourage these online searches. Top webpages provided limited evidence-based clinical content on self-management of abortions, and several antiabortion sites presented health-related disinformation.