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Requests for Abortion Pills Have Skyrocketed Since Roe Was Overturned

Aid Access has seen increased demand across 30 states following the overturning of Roe v. Wade—even if the state isn't likely to ban abortion.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - JULY 1: Melissa Grant, chief operating officer of Carafem, holds up pills used for abortion at the headquarters of Carafem in Washington, D.C., on July 1, 2022. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Photo: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post (Getty Images)

Requests for abortion pills have skyrocketed in 30 states, particularly in the South, since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, according to research from Aid Access released Tuesday. The nonprofit organization—which will prescribe abortion pills under “advance provision” aka before a patient becomes pregnant—saw a steady uptick after the Dobbs decision leaked in May, followed by a huge rise after the decision was officially announced at the end of June.

Before we lost Roe as a legal threshold, the average weekly request for medication abortion was about 83 requests across 30 states. After the Supreme Court officially rescinded federally protected abortion rights, Aid Access requests more than doubled, to 213 requests each week.

“Just because you ban abortion does not change the need for abortion. It doesn’t change people’s experiences or their needs,” lead study author Dr. Abigail R. A. Aiken, of the University of Texas, told Jezebel. “And so people do they find other ways.”

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The five states with the largest increases in demand are those that have severely restricted abortion: Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, and Oklahoma. In places like these states, there is a “probably unintended and ironic” consequence of abortion bans,” Aiken said: “People start to hear about it reported in the media more.”

However, the weekly requests for pills went up even if the patient’s state was unlikely to ban abortion, such as New Hampshire. “Even in states where there was no change in abortion policy or even no likely future change in abortion policy, there was still upticks,” she said, but noted that those upticks were smaller than other states.

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Aid Access’s request form allows patients to say why they’re asking for pills, and it turns out that people do not trust that their access to abortion will stick around: Those who chose “possible future legal restrictions” on the form nearly tripled. Erin Matson, a leader with the Abortion On Our Own Terms campaign and executive director of Reproaction, told Jezebel that the effects of overturning Roe “necessitates for some people looking outside of the traditional medical system, because the the government has failed them.”

Pills become an easier alternative, especially if travel is difficult. “It would make perfect sense for people to hang on to them for when they need them, including in a scenario where we don’t have this, you know, hateful government action,” Matson told Jezebel. People need abortion pills even in “states where abortion access is protected because people are coming in from states where it is no longer accessible,” increasing in-clinic demand for the procedure.

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While abortion pills have been a savior for many, research released last month found a major drop in legal (that is, counted) abortions since Roe ended. By contrast, “border states”—like North Carolina and Kansas, which sit next to large swathes of states that have banned abortion—have seen the biggest increases in the procedure.

Aiken’s research only takes into account 30 states, since her team wanted to study only “self-managed abortion,” which doesn’t include abortion supervised via telehealth, which is available in other states. But the research is compelling evidence that self-managed abortion is going mainstream. “I’m quite certain there are people out there who very unfortunately have been forced to continue pregnancies that they don’t want because they can’t get to a clinic out of state. At the same time, it is reassuring to know that people are finding this and that it is working,” she said.