Hospitals' websites 'rarely' mention abortion compared to other 'routine' care services

Hospitals in states generally permissive of abortion services “rarely” have information about the procedures posted on their patient-facing websites, likely adding to access difficulties for those seeking out an abortion, according to a recent peer-reviewed analysis.

Among a sample of 222 hospitals, about 80% did not make any mention of abortion procedures on their websites. Just over 6% of hospitals’ websites described offering abortion care, with the remaining 14% mentioning the procedure but not offerring it.

In contrast, a similar review of those hospitals’ websites related to colonoscopy services found only 11% that did not mention a colonoscopy in any regard. Almost 86% mentioned and described offering colonoscopies, with just 3% mentioning the procedure but not offering it.

“Our results suggest that hospitals and their health systems are not advertising abortion in a manner consistent with other outpatient procedures nor consistent with medical society statements that abortion is routine, essential healthcare,” researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Medical School wrote in the analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The researchers also noted that, as of March 2023, Google searches for the phrase “abortion near me” were five times more common than those for “colonoscopy near me.”

Hospitals reviewed in the study were identified using the 2019 American Hospital Association database. Those included had at least one labor-and-delivery bed located outside of the 13 U.S. states deemed to have “the most restrictive abortion policies.” Researchers queried the terms “abortion” and “colonoscopy” between August and September 2022 using a Google search limited to each hospital or its health system’s website.

The researchers found their overall trend of infrequent abortion mentions persisted regardless of hospitals’ sizes, profit orientation (for-profit versus nonprofit) and academic status.

The gap between abortion and colonoscopy information also persisted among hospitals with abortion training programs to a lesser extent. Specifically, 48% of the sample’s 65 hospitals with Ryan Residency Training Programs in Abortion and Family Planning offered abortion care on their websites, which was still well below the 92.3% rate at which their websites offered colonoscopies.

Additionally, the researchers found the information related to abortions was harder to surface than that for colonoscopies.

Among the hospital websites that mentioned a procedure, the information on abortion was on average 0.5 pages lower in search engine results than colonoscopy information was in its corresponding search. Hospital websites were also significantly more likely not to list a phone number for scheduling or preprocedural/postprocedural information for abortions than they were for colonoscopies.

The researchers noted their analysis did not measure the portion of sample hospitals that did or did not offer abortion services but cited pre-Dobbs data suggesting that about one in three hospitals nationally do so.

That sweeping 2022 Supreme Court decision “led to markedly reduced care access and greater travel” for abortion services, while the slew of abortion-restrictive state laws that followed it, including Texas’ SB.8, “can further limit providers’ ability to refer, increasing the importance of patient-facing website information,” corresponding study author Ari Friedman, M.D., and colleagues said.

“Post-Roe many patients have been forced to travel for abortion care,” Friedman, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at UPenn’s Perelman School of Medicine, told Fierce Healthcare. “Our findings show that for a patient traveling for care, it would be difficult to use hospital websites to locate hospitals which might provide abortion care, adding to the burdens on patients and to capacity concerns at abortion clinics.”