Abortion Scavenger Hunt

On many hospitals' websites, information about abortion services is often hidden, if even available at all, creating an additional barrier for those seeking care.

bar graph depicting the availability of information about abortions versus colonoscopies on hospital websites

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Abortion restrictions and bans have tightened in many states, and more pregnant people are being left to their own devices. Literally. Without the support of their doctors, the internet is almost always the first place people seeking an abortion will look to assess their options.

Planning and scheduling an abortion without the support of the medical system is an extremely complex, expensive, and draining process. What states can I go to? How will I travel there? Where will I stay? Can I get time off work? How will I afford the procedure and the travel? What clinics or hospitals will perform the abortion? And which one should I choose?

In 2022, Ari Friedman and colleagues examined the websites of 222 randomly selected U.S. hospitals located outside states with strict abortion laws. They were curious about the information each provided about available abortion procedures.

As shown in the figure above, only 6% of hospital websites described offering abortion care at all. By contrast, 86% mention offering colonoscopies, another common procedure lacking the politicization of abortion. Information about abortion services was also better hidden if it did appear on a hospital website. Patients had to scroll, on average, half a page further down in their Google search for information about abortions compared to information about colonoscopies.

The authors conclude that even hospitals in states with progressive abortion laws and abortion training programs omit and bury information about ending pregnancy on their websites. Administrators may want to keep the fact that they provide abortions quiet because they are concerned about protests, violent targeting, and the societal stigma surrounding abortion that might lose them a range of patients.

Laws like Texas’ Senate Bill 8 restrict doctors from referring patients to other clinics or hospitals for abortion care. The precarious burden of finding abortion care falls on already stressed individuals to do their own research and find answers quickly. The lack of transparency makes it difficult for people seeking abortions to find accurate information.

Databyte via Ari B. Friedman, Miriam R. Singer, Katherine L. Blanton, et al. Information About Provision of Abortion on U.S. Hospital Websites: A Cross-Sectional Analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2023.