TOPEKA, Kan. – The covid-19 pandemic and the near ban on abortion in Texas have increased interest in obtaining abortion drugs by mail, but the legality of doing so is questioned in several states.
The case takes on new urgency with the Supreme Court set to hear arguments next month in Mississippi’s bid to erode the Roe v. Wade guaranteeing the right to abortion.
Some abortion rights advocates fear that, regardless of promises from state officials and anti-abortion groups, people who terminate pregnancies at home will face criminal prosecution.
“We don’t think people are doing anything wrong by ordering drugs from an online site,” said Elisa Wells, co-founder and co-director of Plan C, which provides information on medical abortions. “I mean, that’s how men get Viagra. They order it online, and nobody talks about it and asks, ‘Is it illegal?'”
Medical abortions have grown in popularity since regulators began allowing them two decades ago and now account for about 40% of abortions in the United States. The drug can cost as little as $110 to get in the mail, compared to at least $300 for a surgical abortion.
However, people looking for abortion pills often have to navigate different state laws, including drug delivery bans and telemedicine consultations to discuss the drug with a healthcare provider.
In April, the Biden administration lifted a Food and Drug Administration ban on the mail delivery of abortive drugs during the pandemic.
“We just didn’t want women using these drugs and having no protection, no guidance, no consultation,” said Oklahoma State Senator Julie Daniels, a Republican and the law’s chief patron. his state prohibiting the delivery of abortion drugs through the mail. which is on hold amid a legal challenge.
Plan C saw around 135,000 visits to its website in September, about nine times the number it had before Texas law banning abortion as early as the sixth week of pregnancy went into effect on September 1, Wells said.
The divide between Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning states is stark in the St. Louis area. On the Illinois side, Planned Parenthood offers telemedicine consultations and prescriptions by mail. Missouri, however, bans telemedicine and requires a pelvic exam before abortion, which providers consider unnecessary and invasive.
“In Missouri, we do not offer medical abortion due to the state requirement,” said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, regional branch medical officer.
Abortion opponents do not expect the FDA’s restriction on abortive drugs to be reinstated under Biden.
GOP lawmakers in Arkansas, Arizona, Montana and Oklahoma were already working on new laws to ban mail delivery when the FDA acted. The ban on mail delivery in Texas goes into effect December 2. South Dakota GOP Governor Kristi Noem issued an executive order in September.
Even some abortion opponents think it will be difficult for states to crack down on providers and providers outside their borders, especially outside the United States.
“Obviously it would be a lot easier if we had the cooperation of the federal government,” said John Seago, legislative director of Texas Right to Life. “There’s no silver bullet identified yet on how we’re going to approach this kind of next frontier of combat.”
Still, Seago says tough penalties encourage prosecutors to prosecute offenders. Montana law, for example, imposes a 20-year prison sentence, a $50,000 fine, or both on anyone who sends pills to a resident of the state.
Pregnant women are seeking telemedicine consultations and abortion pills by mail because they don’t want or can’t travel or can’t arrange time off or childcare, abortion rights advocates say .
“Just because someone doesn’t have access to an abortion doesn’t mean they’re suddenly going to want to pursue a pregnancy that wasn’t originally wanted, right?” said Dr. Meera Shah, chief medical officer of the Planned Parenthood affiliate outside New York, which also performs abortions in Indiana.
New laws in Montana, Oklahoma and Texas state that people cannot face criminal penalties for having medical abortions. Yet these provisions — and assurances from abortion haters that their goal is not to prosecute people who have terminated their pregnancies — do not comfort some abortion rights advocates.
They claim that about 24 women have been prosecuted since 2000 over self-administered abortions.
Some abortion rights advocates have said prosecutors can also use child endangerment or manslaughter charges against people who have had abortions — or miscarriages that authorities deem suspicious. They fear that the poor and people of color are particularly vulnerable.
“They can’t get medicine where they are, so they can buy pills through informal networks or online sites,” said Melissa Grant, chief operating officer of carafem, which operates clinics in four states and provides abortion medication in nine. “But it’s riskier in this country than taking the drugs.”
Containers of drugs used to terminate early pregnancy sit on a table inside a family planning clinic Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, in Fairview Heights, Illinois. Women with unwanted pregnancies are increasingly considering receiving abortion pills in the mail. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)