Many individuals who are facing an unintended pregnancy turn to the Internet as a resource, and this may be particularly true for young women and women seeking to end a pregnancy, according to a new analysis by Guttmacher researchers Jenna Jerman, Tsuyoshi Onda and Rachel Jones. During a month-long period in May and June 2017, individuals in the United States conducted more than 200,000 Google searches for information related to self-abortion.

The researchers administered a survey through a Google AdWords campaign targeted at individuals in the United States whose search terms matched a set of keywords related to self-abortion. The authors analyzed 1,235 survey responses to determine respondents’ reasons for their search, demographic characteristics and personal history with abortion, and basic knowledge of abortion legality and availability. Notably, the proportion of those who clicked on the survey ad (4.7%) was more than twice as high as the average for Google AdWords links, and the proportion who went on to complete the survey was also high (13%, compared with a 2.4% average). A majority of respondents (56%) selected “self-abortion” as the most important term in their online search, followed by “abortion pill” (27%) and “abortion” (12%).

“Self-managed abortion is notoriously difficult to study. We decided to take a new approach to better understand how people use the Internet as a resource for information about the issue,” says Jenna Jerman, lead author of the analysis. “Our findings indicate a high level of interest in self-abortion in the United States, particularly among young people who want to end a pregnancy.”

The vast majority (96%) of survey respondents were female. More than half of respondents (62%) reported that they were pregnant and did not want to be, and an additional 10% were pregnant and unsure if they wanted to be. The survey respondents were disproportionately young—80% were younger than 25. Notably, 41% of respondents were minors, whereas just 3.6% of U.S. abortion patients in 2014 were younger than 18. The researchers note that young people may be more likely than older people to use the Internet as an informational resource or to fill out surveys online.

When asked whether abortion was legal in their state, one-third did not know or thought it was not legal, although abortion is legal throughout the United States. More than half of respondents (52%) were unsure if there was a health care facility where they could obtain an abortion within 50 miles of their home. Some 11% of survey respondents had had a prior abortion at a health facility, and 11% said that they had tried to end an unwanted pregnancy on their own. The researchers conclude that there is an audience for online campaigns that provide basic information about abortion, including both self-managed abortion and clinic-based services.

“The Internet can be a valuable resource for young people, but it can also be a source of misinformation,” says Heather Boonstra, Guttmacher policy expert. “Young people should have access to accurate and comprehensive information about how to safely end an unwanted pregnancy from a range of sources, including health care providers, schools and trusted adults.”

What Are People Looking for When They Google ‘Self-Abortion’?,” by Jenna Jerman, Tsuyoshi Onda and Rachel Jones, is currently available online and will appear in a forthcoming issue of Contraception.

Support for this project was provided in part by the Guttmacher Center for Population Research Innovation and Dissemination (NIH grant 5 R24 HD074034).