Female Sterilization Searches Shoot Up in the U.S.

Google searches for female sterilization, tubes tied surgery, fallopian tube removal, tubal ligation and salpingectomy have all shot up in the U.S. over the last week following news that Roe v. Wade may be overturned.

Women in the U.S. have had a legal right to abortion since the landmark decision by the Supreme Court in 1973. However, on Monday Politico said it had obtained an initial draft majority opinion that indicates the decision will be overturned. The Politico report, which could not be independently verified by Newsweek, sent shockwaves across the country.

States have been preparing for the potential overturn of Roe v. Wade for many years. During his presidency, Donald Trump appointed a number of conservative judges to the Supreme Court, meaning the balance was shifted towards a conservative majority. This raised the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned—which could make abortion illegal in over half of the U.S.

roe v. wade supreme court
MoveOn and Abortion Access activists rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Tuesday. Online searches for female sterilization methods have dramatically increased. Getty Images

Severe restrictions on abortion access are already in law in nine states: Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming. The states with the greatest access to abortion, signed into state law are California, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Washington.

The potential for Roe v. Wade to be overturned appears to have triggered people to look for alternative ways to prevent pregnancy.

Since the Politico report was released, searches for terms relating to female sterilization have increased significantly. Searches for salpingectomy, where a woman's fallopian tubes are removed surgically, on May 3 were more than double what they were a week earlier.

The figures for searches for tubal ligation, where the fallopian tubes are blocked or cut, were similar, and those for female sterilization almost quadrupled.

search data for female sterilization
Google search data from May 4 for female sterilization, tubes tied surgery and salpingectomy over the last seven days. Google

The states where female sterilization was searched most were Montana, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Oregon and Kentuky. For tubal ligation, searches were most prominent in West Virginia, North Dakota, Kentucky, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Salpingectomy searches were highest in Vermont, Maine, West Virginia, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Google users also appeared to be searching for whether tubal ligation was reversible. The surgical procedure is considered a permanent form of birth control and while it can be reversed with another operation, between 20 and 50 percent of women are not able to get pregnant again.

tubal ligation
Top, Google searches for tubal ligation in the U.S. over the last seven days, as of May 4. Bottom, the map shows the frequency of searches for tubal ligation by state. Google

Cynthia Soohoo, Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic at the City of New York School of Law, said there may be an increase in the number of women getting sterilized or using long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) to avoid pregnancy.

"People rightly are concerned about their ability to access an abortion if they need one," she told Newsweek. "People want and need to be able to control their own fertility.

"Many people in the U.S. are just beginning to try to understand what it will mean not to have access to an abortion if they need one, a right that we have taken for granted."

Soohoo said people should have the option for sterilization if this is the best option for them but no one should ever be forced to have an irreversible procedure over fears of an unwanted pregnancy.

Marge Berer, Coordinator of the International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion, said it is too early to tell whether there will be a shift in contraceptive methods used in the U.S. towards LARCs over the coming years. "What is unlikely is that those who may want another child(ren) will seek sterilization in much larger numbers when LARCs are easily obtained and reversible—remove them—or they will at least be very reluctant," she told Newsweek.

Berer said she believes some of the searches into sterilization are the result of scaremongering stories, and that Roe v. Wade being overturned is in no way set in stone.

"I am not prepared to start making doomsday predictions of any kind right now, and I think those who are doing so are playing into the hands of the anti-abortion movement by making women who feel powerless panic, instead of organizing them," she said.

Soohoo, however, is less convinced.

"The leaked decision is just about the worst decision you could imagine," she said. "In reaching the decision that there is no constitutional right to abortion, Justice Alito essentially places the liberty rights of pregnant people on par with the state's interest in fetal life, asserting that states can make the decision about how to weigh the importance of one versus the other."

Berer said the leak of the draft document has been hugely important as it shows a legal process that people need to understand. "Everyone at risk of pregnancy—girls, women, trans—needs to know their lives are at risk—their lives not just access to abortion—and this must be made known across the nation," she said.

"We need to demand our rights for as long as necessary and as loudly as possible until these misogynistic attempts to criminalize women because they can become pregnant and to try to force women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term and have unwanted children, who will suffer too both before and after they are born, continue. Our lives and our futures depend on it."