When access to reproductive health care is threatened in the United States, a growing number of women stock up on abortion medications to keep on hand in case they need the pills in the future, new research shows.
A study analyzed 48,404 requests for “advance provision” abortion medications made to Aid Access, an Austria-based nonprofit offering telehealth abortion services in the US, between the beginning of September 2021 and the end of April 2023.
Most doctors in the US do not let patients order abortion pills before they’re pregnant. “It’s definitely something that’s never been standard practice here,” says Abigail Aiken, the principal investigator of the Self-Managed Abortion Needs Project (Project SANA) at the University of Texas at Austin, who led the study. In recent years, though, interest in “advance provision” has been on the rise, with a limited number of telehealth services giving patients the option to prepare in case abortion access is curtailed in their area.
Aiken’s study shows that demand for abortion pills made by women who weren’t yet pregnant spiked during events when reproductive health care access appeared under threat. This matters, because in 2024, the US will face its next big test for reproductive freedoms, when the US Supreme Court hears a case challenging access to mifepristone, one of the two drugs typically used in a medication abortion. If the court sides with the anti-abortion activists who brought the case against the US Food and Drug Administration, medication abortion access may be in jeopardy nationwide. With this potentially hazardous change on the horizon, it’s likely that even more people will start stocking up.
According to Aiken’s findings, requests were at their highest immediately following the Dobbs decision leak in May 2022, which signaled that Roe v. Wade would be overturned. From a baseline of around 24.8 requests a day, Aid Access saw an influx of 247.3 requests per day following the Dobbs leak. After this rush, requests jumped again after the Dobbs decision was finalized, averaging 89.1 per day. Most recently, requests rose once again, following conflicting court decisions in April 2023 regarding access to mifepristone, one of the two drugs commonly offered in the abortion pill protocol. Aid Access received an average of 172.1 per day.
“This is a way of taking back some control,” Aiken says. “Of being in control of your own reproductive destiny.”