Women searching for abortion pills more than doubles: Analysis

Published: June 07, 2018 14:10:45 | Updated: June 10, 2018 10:37:27

Global online searches for abortion pills have more than doubled over the last decade, BBC analysis of Google searches shows.

The findings also suggest that in countries where abortion laws are more restrictive, there is greater search interest in abortion pills.

By buying pills online and sharing medical advice through WhatsApp groups, women are increasingly turning to technology to sidestep legal barriers to abortion.

This is the modern face of the so-called "DIY abortion".

Countries with the strictest laws, where abortion is allowed only to save a woman's life or banned altogether, have over 10 times higher search interest in abortion pill Misoprostol compared to countries with no restrictions, according to the analysis.

There are two main methods of inducing abortion; surgical and medical.

A medical abortion typically involves taking a combination of pills, Misoprostol and Mifeprostone, to induce a miscarriage. Misoprostol can also go by brand names like Cytotec.

While women in countries such as the UK will be prescribed this combination by a doctor, women searching for and purchasing the pills online in countries where access to abortion is restricted are often breaking the law, risking severe punishments.

Ghana and Nigeria are the two countries with the highest search interest in Misoprostol, according to the Google data.

Ghana only allows abortions in cases of rape, incest, foetal impairment or to preserve a woman's mental health.

Nigeria is stricter still: abortion is only allowed in situations where a woman's life is in danger.

Of the 25 countries with highest search interest in Misoprostol, 11 are in Africa and 14 in Latin America.

All but two - Zambia and Mozambique - either ban abortions altogether or allow them only to save a woman's life or health.

In Ireland, taking abortion pills carries a 14-year prison sentence, however the referendum held in May showed voters were overwhelmingly in favour of overturning the law.

The Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar, who campaigned in favour of liberalisation, has said he hopes new rules will be in place by the end of the year.

A recent report derived from a WhatsApp group, operating in Brazil, shows helping women get hold of the pills and offering them advice during the procedure.

Analysing Google data doesn't just show the countries where search interest is highest. It can also show how often exact phrases are searched about a topic.

"Abortion pills" is a top search phrase on abortion in all the countries.

"How to abort" is the most commonly asked question in more than two-thirds of countries.

"How to use Misoprostol", "Misoprostol price", "buy Misoprostol" and "Misoprostol dosage" feature among the most common searches around abortion.

Alongside abortion pills, women are also turning to their search engines to source alternative methods to self-induce abortions.

Herbs like parsley, cinnamon, vitamin C, aspirin and abortion teas (herbal concoctions) all came up as top searched methods.

Worldwide, about 25 million unsafe abortions take place each year, according to the World Health Organisation, accounting for 45 per cent of all abortions, reports BBC.

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