Web searches for abortion care surge as providers in some states, including W.V., cancel procedures
Last Friday afternoon, Katie Quinonez, the executive director of the one remaining abortion provider in West Virginia, announced that her clinic would stop performing the procedure immediately.
The decision came after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion that morning, and left abortion law in the hands of the states. An 1882 West Virginia law that banned abortions is still on the books, and Quinonez said a local prosecutor could try to enforce the old law.
The Women’s Health Center of West Virginia opened in 1976 as the state’s first abortion provider. It has been the state’s only abortion provider for the past seven years. On Friday, Quinonez and her staff called the 60 to 70 women who had procedures scheduled over the next three weeks to tell them they would have to find care somewhere else.
“Some patients broke down and could not speak through their sobbing,” she said. “Some patients were stunned and didn't know what to say. Some patients did not understand what was happening.”
Although the clinic will still provide other reproductive health services, Quinonez and her staff said they are referring patients seeking abortions to a website: AbortionFinder.com, where they can find the nearest clinic offering the services they need. Pregnant people can enter their age, location and the first day of their last period into a query on the website, and it will return a list of the closest verified abortion providers.
The website has seen an explosion of traffic since Friday's ruling. Over the weekend, the site recorded around 50,000 searches for abortion providers – 10 times as many as the previous weekend. The site reported a roughly four-fold increase in visitors during that same time period. Although a spokesperson didn’t have a detailed geographic breakdown, she said that searches for providers in the Ohio Valley region showed a similar trajectory.
The site saw a significant jump in web traffic after Texas passed a bill banning abortions after six weeks. But this weekend’s surge was the largest spike in traffic the site has seen, said Rachel Fey, the vice president of policy and strategic partnerships for Power to Decide, the nonprofit that runs the website.
The organization has had to take on extra volunteers to keep the site’s database up-to-date, Fey said, as clinics across the country adjust to a changing legal landscape. One clinic in Louisiana, for example, closed its doors after Friday’s decision, but after a legal injunction Monday afternoon, is planning to reopen on Tuesday, she said.
“We are calling through, sometimes daily or multiple times a day, to make sure we know what they are actually offering at this moment in time so that we make sure we don't waste a second of people's time trying to access care somewhere where it's not available,” she said.
The AbortionFinder site was launched in September of 2020 to help simplify the process for patients trying to find their closest abortion provider. Abortion laws across the country were already so fragmented that many women had already been using the site to find verified providers, Fey said.
“Whether it was restrictions preventing public insurance plans from covering abortion, to arbitrary waiting periods and inaccurate information that was required to be read out loud to patients by providers,” she said. “There were so many barriers already that we're only seeing a dramatic exacerbation of those barriers now.”
Some West Virginia patients likely will have to travel hundreds of miles after Friday’s ruling, according to search results on the website.
The Pittsburgh region is home to some of the closest providers for many West Virginia residents, especially those based in the northern part of the state – and for those who are between 14 and 24 weeks pregnant.
Clinics in Ohio are only permitted to perform abortions until about six weeks of pregnancy, because of a law that took effect after the Supreme Court ruling last week. Some clinics in Virginia provide abortions until 14 weeks of pregnancy, according to the website. A search of the site shows that there are two clinics in North Carolina that provide abortions up until 19 or 20 weeks of pregnancy that are close to some of West Virginia’s most southern areas.
The closest abortion provider available for a person who is 15 weeks pregnant in Charleston, West Virginia — where the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia is located — is now 170 miles away, in Pittsburgh.