Rhian Lewis is seeing firsthand how people are turning to the internet for information, support and sometimes just a place to vent their frustrations over concerns that abortion could soon become illegal in many parts of the U.S.
Lewis, co-director of Online Abortion Resource Squad, an internet group that promotes abortion options and information, also helps run the Reddit community dedicated to the topic. Traffic to the forum doubled on Tuesday from Monday. Lewis said on a normal month r/abortion averages more than 500,000 pageviews.
“‘Is my clinic appointment going to be canceled?’ Can I go and get care tomorrow?’” Lewis said of the questions now crowding the subreddit. “People are afraid of what it means if they help someone get care. People are afraid of being criminalized if they have an abortion, if they travel for an abortion, if they source medication online to end a pregnancy at home.”
The questions reflect a broader surge that has hit the internet this week after Politico published a leaked Supreme Court draft decision that showed it could overturn Roe v. Wade, the decision that’s protected abortion rights in the U.S. for nearly 50 years.
On Google, searches for the term “abortion pill” and for abortion medication names spiked following the news.
The internet has been a destination for resources — and fights — about abortion for decades. Abortion-rights advocates operate hundreds of websites, and social media platforms including Facebook and YouTube host content that provide information on everything from seeking legal abortions in states that allow them to ending a pregnancy at home.
But with that information come some risks. Privacy advocates have warned that online activity is not necessarily private even if a person does not publicly reveal their information. Robin Marty, the director of the largest abortion clinic in Alabama, said anti-abortion activists have attempted to intervene with people who have sought abortion resources online in the past.
“Locking down privacy is the most important thing someone needs to be thinking about if they’re going to access abortion resources online,” she said.
One woman who posted to Reddit and spoke with NBC News said she turned to the abortion subreddit in search of information and found emotional support. Though she is not pregnant, she said she’s trying to understand her risks and options as she plans for potential pregnancy in one of the 13 states that have trigger laws that would ban abortion if Roe is overturned.
“It really is helpful because I can see that I’m not the only one feeling this way,” the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for her safety, said. “I have kind of calmed down a little bit now that I’ve started to kind of get a plan together.”
Two other women who spoke to NBC News said they posted on Reddit in the wake of the news out of exasperation and need for a place to vent.
All the Reddit posters who spoke to NBC asked to remain anonymous to maintain their privacy.
Lewis said that kind of support is crucial for people who might not know where to turn despite the plentiful information on the internet.
“When you want information and you have a question, folks typically go to a space where they feel like they can get an answer from a real person,” Lewis said. “A person who has been through what you’ve been through and who can advise you based on a real experience.”