Surge in Abortion Pill Requests as Women Stock Up Amidst Uncertainty, Research Reveals

Houston, Texas – Thousands of women have been stockpiling abortion pills as a precautionary measure in recent years, in anticipation of potential obstacles to obtaining the medication, according to new research. The demand for these pills reached its peak at times when access to them appeared to be at risk. Medication abortion, which accounts for more than half of all abortions in the U.S., typically involves two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol. A research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine examined the requests for these pills from individuals who were not pregnant and sought them through Aid Access, an online telemedicine service in Europe.

Between September 2021 and April 2023, Aid Access received approximately 48,400 requests for “advance provision” from various locations across the United States. The highest number of requests occurred shortly after news leaked in May 2022 regarding the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court. This surge in demand took place before the official announcement in June of that year, as researchers discovered.

Nationally, the average number of daily requests increased nearly tenfold, from about 25 in the eight months prior to the leak to 247 following it. In states where an abortion ban was deemed inevitable, the average weekly request rate rose by approximately ninefold.

Dr. Abigail Aiken, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the authors of the research letter, explained that individuals were concerned about the looming threats to reproductive health access and rights. They were seeking ways to prepare for potential obstacles or to find alternatives for their reproductive needs.

Following the Supreme Court decision, the number of daily requests dropped to 89 nationwide, only to rise again to 172 in April 2023 due to conflicting legal rulings regarding the federal approval of mifepristone. This year, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on restrictions pertaining to the drug.

Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, the director of Aid Access in Amsterdam and a co-author of the research, attributed the spike in requests during uncertain times to increased public awareness.

The study also revealed inequalities in the access to advance provision. Compared to individuals seeking pills for current abortions, a higher proportion of those requesting advance provision were at least 30 years old, white, had no children, and resided in urban areas and regions with lower poverty rates.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, an OB-GYN at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the research, emphasized that advance provision does not currently reach those facing the greatest barriers to abortion care. He noted that some individuals prefer to have the pills on hand in case of need, rather than having to travel to another state or trying to obtain them through telehealth once pregnant. However, he underscored the need for further research to explore these inequities.

Dr. Aiken mentioned that recently, other organizations have started offering pills in advance. She remarked that this practice is not standard within the U.S. healthcare system and many people may not be aware that it is an option.

In conclusion, new research highlights how thousands of women in the U.S. have been stocking up on abortion pills as a precautionary measure. The surge in demand occurred during periods of uncertainty surrounding reproductive health access and rights. Inequities were also observed in terms of who has access to advance provision. Further research is necessary to address these disparities and ensure equal access to reproductive care.