How Do Women Interpret Abortion Information They Find Online?

Marissa Forbes, Oregon Health & Science University
Blair G. Darney, Portland State University
Shaalini Ramandathan, Oregon Health & Science University
Mary Earp, Oregon Health & Science University
Lauren Waldner-James, Oregon Health & Science University
Leo Han, Oregon Health & Science University


Objective We sought to assess how women interpret the information they find online about the overall safety and risk of infertility associated with abortion and cesarean delivery (CD). Methods We conducted an exploratory, prospective study tracking the internet searches of 100 reproductive-aged individuals who identify as women. We directed participants to search for information about either (1) whether surgical abortion or CD is safe or (2) the risk of infertility following surgical abortion or CD. Our data collection had 3 phases: baseline survey, directed internet search, and a postsearch survey. We analyzed participants’ pre- and postsurvey responses using bivariate tests and analyzed within-subject changes. We evaluated the sites they visited based on expert ratings of site content based on trustworthiness and slant. Results Women perceived abortion as safer and less likely to cause infertility after their web searches than before (70% perceived abortion in the United States as very/completely safe presearch vs 92% postsearch; p < 0.02). Women's perceptions about CD did not change. Participants sought information from web pages that experts largely deemed trustworthy and lacking in slant. Conclusions Women's perceptions about abortion safety and risk can be influenced by information they find online; perceptions about CD safety and risk may be less influenced by online information. Implications Disseminating high quality, user-friendly abortion information on highly ranked and easily findable websites can help women find evidence-based information and influence knowledge about abortion.