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Imposing legal restrictions on abortions indeed leads to the closing of abortion clinics, as is the intention of lawmakers pushing through the new laws. Restricted access to abortions doesn't, however, change the fact that women seek abortions. In fact, there's evidence it contributes to a rise in the number of self-induced abortions, including a return of the coat-hanger pregnancy termination.
Economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a contributing opinion writer to the New York Times, compared Google searches to birth rates, abortion rates and changes in legal access to abortions around the U.S. What he found was in states where the laws have become more restrictive, Google searches for DIY abortions were higher than in states where safe, medical abortions are accessible.
For example, last year, there were more than 700,000 Google searches using terms associated with self-induced abortions, such as "how to self-abort" and "how to have a miscarriage." Searches also included inquiries about particular methods—how to get abortion pills without a prescription or for free. There were 3.4 million searches for abortion clinics.
Stephens-Davidowitz mapped the number of searches by state, which had been color-coded based on the number and strength of legal barriers preventing access to abortions. The most searches occurred in Mississippi, which has only one abortion clinic left in the entire state and is considered "very hostile" to abortion, meaning it has between six and ten legal barriers. In fact, eight of the ten states with the highest rates of searches for DIY abortions are in the most restrictive "very hostile" category, according to the maps.
Analysis of Google searches, Stephens-Davidowtiz writes, is a way at getting closer to understanding the number of self-induced abortions across the U.S., as women have been reluctant to report these experiences.
The Google searches spiked in 2011, which Stephens-Davidowitz points out is the same year many states around the U.S. introduced legal restrictions and barriers to getting safe, doctor-performed abortions. Canada, where restrictions have not been introduced in the past decade, did not see a similar jump in searches for self-induced abortions.
Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagen stated in court the connection between abortion laws and the ability for women to terminate pregnancies safely. Before the court handed down an order to allow a handful of Louisiana abortion clinics to reopen, reversing a federal appeals court ruling they could be shut down, Kagen reflected openly on the connection between restrictive laws in Texas and then number of abortion clinics in operation.
"It's almost like the perfect controlled experiment as to the effect of the law, isn't it?" she said. "It's like you put the law into effect—12 clinics closed. You take the law out of effect—they reopen."