Restrictive abortion laws may drive some Americans to look for abortion medications online, a new study reports.

“Though it may be surprising to consider, people in the United States are looking for ways to end their pregnancies at home using abortion pills they can get online,” said study author Abigail Aiken. She’s an assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Someone might decide to self-manage their own abortion either because of barriers to clinic access or because it’s a better fit for their circumstances,” she said in a university news release.

Aiken conducted anonymous interviews with 30 women and two men in 20 states who sought abortion pills online. The men were seeking the medications on behalf of female partners.

When given at a clinic, abortion pills involve using two medicines to end a pregnancy: mifepristone and misoprostol.

But Aiken and her colleagues found that the high cost of clinical care was a major barrier for those in states with restrictive laws. Other barriers included long waiting periods, ultrasound requirements and concerns about harassment by abortion protesters.

Barriers to abortion in states with moderate or supportive laws included long distances to clinics, lack of transportation and difficulty finding information.

Some of the study participants said they sought abortion pills online for convenience, privacy or wanting the comfort and familiarity of their own home.

Regardless of their motivation, many study participants said current options did not meet their needs. Most had concerns about the legitimacy of online pharmacy sites, according to the study.

Aiken and her team also found that online sources offered either information or medications, but not both. They said a lack of trusted online options can delay care and lead people to consider ineffective or unsafe abortion alternatives.

“We know that medication abortion is extremely safe and effective when carried out with the correct doses of medications, clear instructions and information about what to expect, and a reliable source of support and aftercare. Unfortunately, most current online options leave these needs unmet,” Aiken said.

“Our study shows that there is a public health justification to ensure that people who do self-manage can do so safely,” she concluded.

The findings were published July 11 in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

More information

Planned Parenthood has more on abortion medications.

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