Need help getting an abortion? Social media flooded with resources after Roe reversal

·9 min read

The Supreme Court decision to strike down Roe v. Wade on Friday was met with immediate protests and celebrations alike around the United States. But online, social media users mobilized just as quickly to share critical resources for those whose constitutional right to get an abortion had suddenly been taken away.

Social media platforms flooded with infographics, articles, memes and videos aimed at mitigating the chaos left in the wake of the ruling — boosting resources for those seeking abortion services. Links to donate to abortion funds trended on Twitter. On TikTok, feeds flooded with explainers on what the decision means state-by-state. People offering transportation and housing for those traveling for an abortion took to Reddit and Facebook. Instagram filled with guidance on how to obtain abortion pills and emergency contraceptives online.

Related: Instagram and Facebook remove posts offering abortion pills

One platform, the health education nonprofit Mayday Medicines, went from having zero followers on Instagram to more than ten thousand within a span of days after posting straightforward advice on how to access self-managed abortion services, like abortion pills, by mail.

Social media platforms have long been the town halls of the digital age. But as the restrictions on abortion access materialize in a vastly different world than the one that existed before Roe codified the right to an abortion in 1973, social media is now much more than a place to voice opinions and share personal stories. An online world has emerged that seems poised to help those looking to counteract the court’s decision — or at the very least mitigate the effects.

“We have seen this time and time again with so many different social movements and justice projects over the past few years, that all of these different platforms become sites for people to share information, to share their own stories, but also to get actual action steps in place,” said Carly Gieseler, author of “The Voices of #MeToo: From Grassroots Activism to a Viral Roar” and a researcher on the intersections of gender and media.

Demonstrators react outside the Supreme Court on June 24, 2022 after the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a constitutional right to abortions.
Demonstrators react outside the Supreme Court on June 24, 2022 after the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a constitutional right to abortions.

Friday’s decision immediately resulted in some states banning or severely restricting abortion, with others expected to follow as "trigger laws" take effect over the next month,  stripping away the constitutional right to abortion that Roe v. Wade guaranteed for almost half a century. The ruling is anticipated to lead to abortion being banned in about half of the states.

The founders of Mayday Medicines began organizing and planning their social media strategy well ahead of the ruling, in early May when Politico published a leaked draft of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The group of reproductive health activists and Democratic digital media strategists consulted health experts, civil rights attorneys and doctors to understand what gaps they could fill with their platform. They created a website and social media pages Thursday night and launched their efforts on Friday when the decision was announced.

Starting with zero followers, within 24 hours the organization’s Twitter and Instagram posts went viral. On Instagram, millions of users liked and reposted resources using the “stories” function of the app, allowing accounts like @mayday.health to reach massive audiences.

A two-slide infographic posted by Mayday Medicines on Instagram sharing resources on how to get an abortion by mail received over 75 thousand likes within one day. A tweet with similar information garnered over 3.5 million impressions, according to screenshots of engagement metrics provided by the group.

“The information that we shared was clear, vetted and our support of resources are easily citable,” said 27-year-old Sydney Levin-Epstein, a founding board member of Mayday Medicines. “What our generation is calling for is clear action with accessible information and equitable distribution of resources.”

Levin-Epstein, who is running for state Senate in Massachusetts, cited her experience working on political campaigns as being instrumental in informing the social media strategy utilized by Mayday Medicines.

“When the message and the purpose behind what needs to go viral is so much greater than something at surface level, you see people wanting to help and wanting to buy in,” Levin-Epstein explained.

Plan C, a website providing information on at-home abortion pill options, also saw several of its social media posts go viral Friday. In the day following the ruling, Plan C’s Instagram account went from 43,000 followers to 63,000 — gaining over 20 thousand followers virtually overnight, according to Elisa Wells, co-founder and co-director of Plan C.

“[On Friday] we had 209,000 visitors to our site, up from say 4,000 the day before,” Wells said. “So, I mean a huge spike. And it has continued.”

Wells is a public health expert who has been working on reproductive health issues for over 30 years.

“I remember back in the day when we were trying to promote emergency contraception in the 1990s, we were using public service ads on television, on radio, bus placards — all those sorts of things,” Wells said. “This is a totally different world where we can blast out information and reach, you know, tens of thousands of people at a time. Or even millions depending on who is retweeting us.”

Sharing resources and personal stories

While organizations like Mayday Medicines and Plan C are using social media to share tangible resources, individuals are also using these platforms to showcase personal experiences, connect with others and mobilize — harboring space for community building.

On TikTok in particular, content creators are using the platform to not only explain what the ruling means state-by-state and what resources are available in the post-Roe world, but also to de-stigmatize abortion by sharing casual and even humorous videos showcasing personal experiences.

Paige Alexandria, an abortion hotline intake counselor at the National Abortion Federation, uses her TikTok platform with more than 114,000 followers to post educational videos about abortion and share her personal experience having an abortion in 2016. Alexandria, who began posting educational videos on TikTok in 2020, said platforms like TikTok are a valuable tool, allowing information about abortion services to reach people who need it most.

“Once I really saw the impact of this tool and how fast you can reach people in a short amount of time, it was really obvious that this was something that was going to be really valuable to our movement,” Alexandria said.

Experts caution against 'camping' posts

On Reddit, people had mobilized even before Friday’s ruling to offer help to those seeking abortions out of state. One subreddit, r/auntienetwork, was filled in recent days with posts from those offering support, services, rides and even places to stay for people seeking abortion care. The community, which according to the group’s wiki page started in May 2019, has more than 100,000 members. The moderators could not be reached for comment.

On Twitter and TikTok, many users similarly offered housing and transportation help, using the codeword “camping” in place of abortion.

Reproductive health experts and advocates have voiced caution about those methods, saying they could be unsafe and suggesting that those seeking abortion turn to well-established organizations which are vetted, well-funded and dependable.

Fact-checking abortion information and including more voices

Alongside the high-quality information being shared online, misleading imagery and messaging has also taken root on social media platforms in recent days. But users have been quick to fact-check and correct misleading narratives.

On Friday, Google searches spiked for the term “pennyroyal,” a highly toxic plant that is believed to work as a natural abortifacient, with the highest increase being in Kentucky where abortion access abruptly ended due to the state’s trigger ban. Social media users responded by warning that the plant can be lethal when ingested.

Social media is also an important tool because it allows people to amplify the voices of those commonly left out of conversations relating to reproductive health and abortion access, like trans and nonbinary people, as well as Black and brown people who are disproportionately impacted by restrictions to reproductive health and abortion services. By the nature of virality, voices of social media users from these communities are able to be boosted to the top, as was seen on Friday.

Meredith Clark, an associate professor at Northeastern University and researcher specializing in the intersection of race, media and power, said that internet-driven social movements that have come before this moment, such as the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter, have left many social media users poised to navigate Friday’s decision with more digital and social literacy than ever before.

'Back-alley butchers,' dead women, doctors arrested: What life was like before Roe and what could happen next

Social media is streamlining the advocacy work that activists have been doing for decades, allowing unprecedented numbers of people to access information and resources in a near instant. Clark noted that the moment happening now wouldn’t be possible “without the investment that hundreds of thousands of people have put in over the years” to organize around reproductive justice.

“There were people who prepared for this day, even when it did not seem like it may eventually come,” Clark said. “They were always prepared. They were vigilant about the threat, and it is because of their preparation that so many people are able to mobilize and to react to this moment.”

Taraneh Azar is a reporter on USA Today's national investigative team specializing in online communities and viral content. Azar can be reached at ttabibazar@usatoday.com or on Twitter at @TaranehTAzar

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Abortion help: Social media offers resources after Roe reversal

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