As Republican-controlled states have pushed further in recent years to limit women’s access to abortion clinics, Google searches for “self-abortions” have increased significantly, according to ABC News.
And that trend is likely to continue if President Donald Trump is able to place an extremely conservative justice on the U.S. Supreme Court to replace to retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy — a more moderate justice who in 1992 voted to reaffirm Roe v. Wade and women’s right to end a pregnancy.
A smattering of Republican laws already have restricted access for women in numerous states — leaving some with only one abortion clinic for the entire state.
"In 2017, 58 percent of American women of reproductive age lived in a state considered either hostile or extremely hostile to abortion rights," said Megan K. Donovan, senior policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based reproductive rights research group. "It's very confusing that we have a constitutional right to abortion but how you actually are able to access that health care that you do [have a right to] depends on your zip code."
Online searches about self-induced abortion began to rise sharply in 2011 when there was an upswing in state restrictions on legal abortion, data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, who has studied internet search trends on self-managed abortions, told "Good Morning America." And the searches are most common in states with stringent restrictions.
Mississippi had the highest rate of such searches in 2015, which is undoubtedly related to the fact it has but one abortion clinic.
A total of seven states are in the same boat: West Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Arkansas each have only one abortion clinic.
While self-abortions are less likely to be the kind that first come to mind — such as back alley abortions involving coat hangers — it is still dangerous for women to attempt a medical abortion without proper medical supervision.
The most likely scenario involves a woman obtaining the abortion pill, a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol, and taking the medication on her own.
But that still presents a risk.
Even under a doctor's care, medical abortions are associated with an increased risk of infection and can be associated with heavy bleeding and more cramping than a surgical abortion, according to ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, also a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist.
Infection, hemorrhaging, an incomplete termination and failing to catch a tubal pregnancy are all possibilities that could lead to negative outcomes — including death.
"The biggest [risk] is that they could miss an ectopic pregnancy," she said. "There could be a pregnancy that's not in the uterus that they don't know and if an ectopic pregnancy ruptures, women can bleed to death."
"When a woman has a positive pregnancy test, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's a normal uterine pregnancy," Ashton continued. "The whole reason that women normally go to an ob-gyn or Planned Parenthood is not just to tell them that they're pregnant ... but to follow blood levels of certain hormones and also to do an ultrasound to be sure that the pregnancy is in the uterus and not a life-threatening tubal pregnancy, which we call an ectopic."
The issue of increased self-abortions is imperative to address regardless of Trump’s choice for the Supreme Court, but should the court move to gut the power of Roe v. Wade or overturn the ruling entirely, the issue will become more urgent.
"State legislatures may be all the more emboldened by the opportunity to further restrict abortion in the event that the Supreme Court opens that door even wider," [Donovan] said.
If that proves to be true, the need for thorough and accurate information for women online will be critical, Donovan noted.
"People are turning to the internet for information about how to self-manage an abortion," she said. "Anytime someone is unable to find and rely on accurate information, then we know that their access to high-quality care is put further at risk."