How can I protect my digital privacy when seeking information online about abortion or receiving care?
In an increasingly digital world, there are more records of what type of information people are searching for and where they are searching for it. It's possible that this type of data can be used to prosecute those who are seeking an abortion or helping someone else seek an abortion.
In order to protect yourself, there are a number of ways you can protect your privacy:
- Use browsers and search engines with more intensive privacy settings, such as DuckDuckGo, Firefox, and Brave.
- Turn off all browser features related to site data, cookies, caching, and browser history.
- Use contact information that is completely separate from your primary forms of contact.
- You can get a secondary phone number through Google Voice, Hushed, or Burner. You can get a secondary, secure email address at Tutanota or ProtonMail You can use a messaging app such as Signal which has end-to-end encryption, has settings to allow messages to disappear, and doesn’t collect data about its users.
- If you use any health apps to track your period, review their policies on data sharing, such as whether the app owns your data, where the data is stored, and whether it is sold to advertisers.
- If you feel uncomfortable with the policies, you could switch to an app with privacy policies that better align with your values or switch to tracking manually with paper and pencil.
What is an abortion?
Abortion is the process of terminating a pregnancy. This can be done through two different methods: medication abortion or an in-clinic abortion.
Medication abortion is when a pregnant person takes pills to end their pregnancy, and can occur outside of medical settings, as many people prefer to complete it in the privacy and comfort of their home. These types of abortions usually occur in the first trimester of pregnancy, generally before ten to eleven weeks after the pregnant person’s last menstrual period.
To end a pregnancy with medication, two different types of pills are used: mifepristone and misoprostol. The process begins by taking mifepristone on the first day, and then a day or two later taking the misoprostol. After taking the misoprostol, the pregnant person will begin to expel the fetal tissue from their body. Many people experience heavy bleeding and cramping during this time, with the experience resembling a miscarriage.
The vast majority of medication abortions are successful without any additional medical interventions, as the pills work over 98 percent of the time. However, if a person were to experience increased bleeding, a fever, persistent cramping, or other symptoms indicating that their pregnancy hasn’t fully passed, they may need to seek additional treatment. If you live in a state where abortion is illegal and you used medication abortion, you don’t need to tell any providers while seeking care. Medication abortion pills can’t be detected in any tests. A medication abortion and miscarriage present the same symptoms, and health care professionals can help accordingly.
Not everyone may be a candidate for a self-managed medication abortion. If people are more than twelve weeks pregnant, the abortion pills may not fully terminate the pregnancy. Additionally, people with a variety of health conditions, who may have an ectopic pregnancy or history of ectopic pregnancy, or have an intrauterine device (IUD) are all advised to seek guidance from a health professional. Access to support is also critical, so it’s not recommended that these be taken by someone who is alone or can’t get to a health care provider within two hours. While medication abortions are generally considered very safe, complications may arise in which seeking care is necessary.
Medical providers can administer two different kinds of in-clinic abortions: suction/aspiration abortion and dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortion. Which kind a pregnant person chooses may depend on a variety of factors, but one of the key factors in the decision is how far into the pregnancy a person is. A suction/aspiration abortion can be completed at about 14 to 16 weeks after the last menstrual period, while a D&E abortion is usually the option selected for abortions completed after 14 to 16 weeks into the pregnancy.
This type of abortion is when a medical provider uses gentle suction to remove the pregnancy from the uterus. To complete this abortion, the provider will insert a speculum into the vagina and numb the cervix and the area around it. To make it easier to complete the suction, they’ll use dilators to expand the size of the cervix. This will allow space for the fetal tissue to pass through. Using an aspirator, they can then remove the pregnancy. Many people feel strong cramping during this, but the overall procedure only takes about five to ten minutes. In order to help with the discomfort, some people may decide to use sedation. The types of sedation used can vary by clinic and the needs of the pregnant person. After the procedure, the health care providers will monitor you and may offer you a drink or snack before checking that the sedation has worn off. The patient is allowed to leave shortly after, once they’re feeling well. This is a quick, same-day procedure.
Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) Abortions
This type of abortion is done after 14 to 16 weeks into a pregnancy. It allows the medical providers to use a combination of tools and suction to fully remove the fetal tissue from the uterus. In some instances, this type of abortion may take place over the course of two days. In order to prepare the cervix, medical professionals will insert dilators to the cervix or use medications to open it enough for the pregnancy to be removed. This may happen the day prior to the procedure to ensure the cervix has widened enough. When the cervix is open enough, it proceeds similarly to an aspiration abortion. The provider will insert a speculum into the vagina and numb the cervix and surrounding areas. If the cervix still needs to be dilated a bit more, they may add additional dilators to make it easier for them to remove the tissue. Some people will feel very strong cramping during this procedure and will use sedation to help reduce the pain and discomfort. This type of procedure is also quick, taking less than half an hour. After the procedure, the person who received the abortion will need to wait in the recovery room for the anesthesia to wear off and have something to drink. Once they are feeling better, they’re able to leave the clinic.
Both suction abortions and dilation & evacuation abortion procedures are very low risk procedures and have about the same risk as other procedures occurring in a gynecologist’s office. That being said, some people may experience vaginal bleeding, tissue in the uterus, or an infection, among other effects. Anyone experiencing these effects should reach out to a health care provider right away.
How do I find an abortion care provider?
Due to the changing legal landscape in the United States, access to abortion can vary by state. In order to find an abortion provider, organizations such as the National Abortion Federation have resources such as their Find a Provider page, which can help those seeking abortion services filter by their location to find a provider closest to them. They provide the name, location, and contact information of clinics that provide these services. They also note any specific restrictions that a state or location may have abortion services.
Telemedicine may also be an option for those seeking an abortion. According to studies conducted on the safety of telemedicine for medication abortion, researchers found it to be a safe and effective way to dispense abortion pills and can improve the access of abortion care to many people in the United States. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) has long supported the use of telemedicine to consult with patients and prescribe abortion pills, noting that the restrictions on telemedicine for medication abortion often have more to do with restricting access than protecting patient safety.
To learn about what services are available in your state, the Guttmacher Institute has an interactive map that tracks the abortion policies around the country. They keep this map up to date, noting the policies from the most restrictive policies to those that are the most protective of abortion access. This includes policies related to insurance coverage for abortion, telemedicine being used to provide abortion care, parental consent, how far into pregnancy an abortion is permitted, and the number of trips required before an abortion is performed, among other policies.
For those choosing to self-manage their abortion, they may access abortion pills through online pharmacies (though many still require a prescription written by a health care provider). Organizations such as Plan C provide information about accessing abortion pills in each state.
How can I tell if a health clinic will help me get an abortion?
When searching for care, note that some centers will identify themselves as women’s health clinics, sometimes calling themselves crisis pregnancy centers or pregnancy resource centers. In many instances, these clinics aren’t real medical clinics. Due to this, they aren’t required to follow the laws around the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). They also aren’t required to provide accurate health information, and their goals often include spreading disinformation about sexual health including birth control and abortion. Many of them explicitly try to pressure those seeking an abortion out of receiving one. They may provide inaccurate information with the purpose of confusing or dissuading the person seeking services. They may also be vague about the services they provide.
If you’re unsure if a clinic is a medical clinic or a crisis pregnancy center, calling them to explicitly ask if they provide abortions or birth control can be useful. Any organization that is unclear about the services they provide, dissuading someone from seeking those services, claims that abortion is unsafe or can be reversed, or makes negative comments about reproductive health (such as about abortion, condoms, birth control, or various types of sexual activity), among other practices, is likely to be a crisis pregnancy center. Checking their website for similar language or to see what services they provide may also provide some insight. You can also search online using tools such as the Crisis Pregnancy Center Map to figure out which centers near you may be a crisis pregnancy center.
I don’t have insurance/my insurance doesn’t cover abortion services. How do I pay for an abortion?
Many clinics and organizations have support for those looking to pay for an abortion. Some clinics have low-fee or sliding scales to help pay for the cost of the procedure. Abortion funds can also help to pay for any abortion-related costs. This can include the procedure, and for those who need to travel to receive abortion care, travel expenses, food, lodging, and childcare. Organizations such as the National Network of Abortion Funds provide databases to help people locate funds that may be able to support them. Additionally, some companies have pledged to pay these costs for their employees as part of their employee benefits.
For more information of safety and privacy when seeking care, please visit Abortion Safety and Privacy.
Disclaimer: Go Ask Alice! provides health information and should not be considered specific medical advice, a diagnosis, treatment, or a second opinion for health conditions. Any products or organizations referenced on the Go Ask Alice! website are not an endorsement of said product or organization. They are intended as a reference point and all readers are encouraged to do their own research before using.
Last reviewed/updated: December 9, 2022