She’s right: I felt a little rushed when I received my first pills. I expected all this to be expensive. And so, probing the hidden difficulties, I tried again and again.
Over the past year, I have ordered abortion pills from four different online pharmacies. The process was sketchy at times. There were poorly translated websites and customer service reps texting me on Skype with the greeting “yo”. I declined to proceed with an order because the site asked me to wire money to a random address in India. After filling out their consultation form, Aid Access emailed me asking if I’m really pregnant, as I have a male name and “the female must confirm” she is ordering the medication from herself ; since I’m a man and I’m not pregnant, I don’t have to order.
But most of my orders went well. Each of the three packs of pills I received cost me between $200 and $300, including expedited shipping. (The average cost of an abortion in the United States is around $500.)
I spent months looking for a lab that would test my pills; many waved me off, wary of controversy. Finally, I contacted Alan Wu, head of the clinical chemistry lab at San Francisco General Hospital, whose lab tested a few of my mifepristone tablets. The conclusion: They were authentic. I wasn’t surprised; In a more comprehensive study by Gynuity Health and Plan C, published last year in the journal Contraception, researchers from four states ordered abortion pills from 16 different online pharmacies and found that they were all exactly what they said they were.
Every time I received a packet of pills in the mail, I was more and more overwhelmed: if it’s so easy, how are they going to stop it? I’ve watched digital markets for 20 years and learned to spot a simple and powerful dynamic: when something hard to take offline becomes easy to take online, big change is afoot.
Which is not to say that everyone agrees with the online pill market. While there is a growing consensus within the American medical establishment that restrictions on abortion drugs no longer make medical sense, I have spoken to several abortion rights advocates who worried about a parade of horrors that could overwhelm the movement if the underground online pill market was abandoned. grow up unhindered: Women get fake pills, get ripped off, get sick, get pills dropped by men, or get sued.
The activists building the online pill network recognize that there are potential dangers in the market, but they insist the risks are far less than many realize. In a study of more than 1,000 Irish women who obtained pills from Women on Web, a pill distribution group created by Gomperts in 2005, less than 1% reported side effects requiring further medical attention. “Providing abortions this way is as safe as in-clinic abortion,” Gomperts told me.