About 600 women in the United States have obtained abortion pills through Access to aid, a website that was quietly launched six months ago, aimed at helping women who cannot easily access abortions.
The founder of both sites, Dutch doctor Rebecca Gomperts, said Aid Access was created in response to an increase in the number of American women seeking help from a similar European website, Women on Web, during the past year.
“I’ve decided that as a doctor, I have a moral obligation to help women who need a very safe medical procedure,” Gomperts told the Guardian.
Women’s health advocates in the United States are concerned about the Trump administration’s efforts to further restrict access to abortion. Those fears intensified when Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. During his Senate confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh declined to say how he would rule if the court were to review the legality of abortion.
Aid Access allows women to request the abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol after an online consultation with a doctor. If the doctor decides it would be safe for the woman to use the pills, a payment of $95 is suggested. Fees can be waived.
It appears to be the only such site to offer this service in the United States. Women on Web has helped American soldiers deployed in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
In April, a small study of 18 online pharmacies found that it was “possible” to obtain abortion pills in the United States without a prescription.
Aid Access, which is available in English and Spanish, is different from these sites because women need to see a doctor to get a prescription. The price is also lower than that usually offered by online pharmacies.
Gomperts writes the prescriptions, which are sent to a pharmacy in India, which sends the pills to the United States. Women are encouraged to contact Gomperts for further medical advice.
The pills are only for pregnant women who are 10 weeks or less pregnant. A May 2017 study of 1,000 women less than 10 weeks pregnant using abortion pills at home showed that 95% terminated their pregnancies safely without surgery.
Gomperts shared anonymized emails from users of the service with the Guardian. One woman said that without Aid Access she would have ‘had no choice but to take extremely dangerous steps to achieve the same result’.
Access to medical abortion is different in each of the 50 states, but in general it reflects strict legal restrictions for surgical abortions. In 27 states women must receive counseling before either type of abortion.
Only certified providers can dispense abortion pills. In 21 states, including Texas, Arizona and Tennessee, a physician must be physically present during the procedure. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, allows women to take the pills after leaving a clinic.
The FDA said Sunday that broadcast restrictions has been in place for these drugs since 2000 under its Risk Assessment and Mitigation Strategy (REms) program. “The agency takes allegations related to the sale of mifepristone in the United States through online distribution channels very seriously and is evaluating the allegations to assess potential violations of United States law,” the agency said in a statement. .
In Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and New York, a program is being evaluated that would send abortion pills by mail overnight, after a video consultation with a doctor. Programs in Iowa, Alaska, Minnesota and Maine allow women to make an appointment with a telemedicine doctor to obtain a medical abortion prescription, although women must then visit a clinic to obtain and use the pills.
Aid Access makes it clear in its terms of service that the group is not responsible for any legal consequences women face for using the service.
Anti-abortion groups are of course opposed to such services. Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, recently said to the Atlantic: “Distributing deadly drugs through the mail is an impending disaster.”
She added, “The pro-life movement will be absolutely committed to stopping this dangerous business from harming American women.”
Gomperts said if any groups oppose Aid Access efforts, they should work to improve access to abortion.
“I don’t think this service should be needed in the first place,” she said.