What to know about buying abortion pills online

buy abortion pills online

Artwork by Cathryn Virginia

Imagine that you are pregnant and you don’t want to be. Imagine that you live in one of six states with only one abortion clinic. Imagine you don’t have a lot of money and traveling hundreds of miles to the nearest clinic would be too expensive. Imagine the nearest state is one of 27 that have a required waiting period for abortions, which would mean finding a hotel or a place to stay overnight. Imagine spending the night somewhere would mean taking several days off from a job that pays you an hourly wage, which means you would lose that money. Imagine you don’t have a car.

According to decades of research, this set of circumstances applies to countless people across the country who seek abortion services. Escalating attacks on abortion have created additional barriers to accessing the procedure in recent years, making it somewhat inevitable that people will turn to the internet for help, not just for obtain information on the nearest abortion clinic or to obtain money to cover the procedure, but increasingly to learn how to terminate their pregnancy themselves. And that even includes those who face fewer barriers to abortion services: some people would simply prefer to do it on their own, in the comfort and privacy of their own home, at their convenience.

The number of online searches for self-directed abortion – the practice of self-inducing an abortion without the supervision of a medical professional – began to increase significantly in 2011, coinciding with an increase in restrictions abortion at the state level. The Guttmacher Institute found that American Internet users performed more than 200,000 Google searches for information on self-managed abortion in just one month, shortly after President Donald Trump took office.

These searches eventually lead users to one of the many websites currently selling abortion pills online. For somewhere between $95 and $360, retailers will send out a pack of pills that, if they contain the right drugs – mifepristone and misoprostol – and taken correctly, will end a pregnancy that lasts up to 10 weeks. Mifepristone blocks the body’s production of progesterone, the hormone that prepares the uterus for pregnancy, and misoprostol causes contractions to empty the uterus, essentially causing a miscarriage. Both of these drugs have been shown to be safe and effective. But while it’s always been easy to buy things on the internet, it hasn’t always been reliable.

So, is it safe to buy abortion pills online? And, given current Food and Drug Administration restrictions on mifepristone, which require it to be administered in person at a doctor’s office or clinic, is it legal?

Do the websites sell real abortion pills?

Yes they are. Chloe Murtagh first investigated the question in 2017, when she tested abortion pills from 20 different sites. Murtagh, who at the time was a program assistant at the reproductive health research organization Gynuity Health Projects, wrote in an article for VICE that initially some of her colleagues suspected that online abortion pill sellers were selling “very expensive sugar pills” instead of mifepristone and misoprostol. . But after performing lab tests, his research team determined that all of the pills were real and contained the same amount of mifepristone as pills given out by clinics like Planned Parenthood. However, she found that some pills contained lower doses of misoprostol, meaning they might be less effective, but not necessarily harmful.

Murtagh said his biggest concern was the shipping time for the pills, which took around 10 days to arrive. She said people considering buying pills online should be aware of the time frame in which they need to take them – abortion pills are effective for pregnant women who are 10 weeks or less pregnant.

“I was very surprised and excited that every pill we ended up receiving contained at least some of the drugs advertised,” Murtagh told VICE. “On the other hand, I was really concerned that some of the pills had less medicine than expected, and probably even more so, that some of the packages were taking to arrive. Neither would threaten necessarily health, but using ineffective pills and waiting for them a little is just wasted time in an urgent situation.

Based on research by Murtagh and his team, the reproductive health organization Plan C has created a “report card” that ranks online abortion pill retailers by price, shipping time, the quality of the product and the supervision of the doctor. The organization does not make recommendations or advise people on whether to manage their own abortions, but founder Amy Merrill said she believes buying pregnancy ending pills online is safe and effective if you know for sure that what you bought is the real thing. thing – and Plan C’s report card can help people check it out.

“I keep coming back to data on the safety of the method as a whole,” Merrill said. “It is safer than Viagra to use this method of ending a pregnancy, and that includes people taking these pills in a clinic as well as ordering them online.”

There’s a lot of science and research backing up Merrill. The combination of mifepristone and misoprostol was first approved as an abortifacient in France and China in the late 1980s, and the World Health Organization has recommended it as a method to end abortions since 2013. Earlier this month, the WHO updated its official drug guidelines, getting rid of the stipulation that once stated that their use required “close medical supervision”. Merrill said the advice only reinforces the growing body of evidence that using abortion pills is a safe and effective method of ending a pregnancy.

Is self-managed abortion legal?

Medical abortion actually causes miscarriage, which means it usually involves cramping and bleeding, nausea, dizziness, diarrhea and mild fever. Some people may have heavy and prolonged bleeding, or a fever that persists after taking the misoprostol pills, in which case doctors advise you to go to the hospital. Advocates for self-administered abortions often advise patients to tell doctors they are simply having a miscarriage. should be aware of the legal risks.

According to the reproductive justice legal group If/When/How, there are five states – Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Oklahoma and South Carolina – that still have laws in place criminalizing sex. self-managed abortion. (It was seven earlier this year – New York and Nevada recently repealed their criminal laws). Thirty-eight states have laws criminalizing fetal harm, which prosecutors could also apply to self-directed abortion cases.

Yet If/When/How lawyers say the law is mostly on the side of the pregnant woman: Since 2011, the group has uncovered only eight cases where someone has been accused of causing an abortion, and the charges were dismissed in half. of them.

“Any attempt to criminalize or control self-directed abortion is illegitimate and unconstitutional,” said Farah Diaz-Tello, senior counsel at If/When/How. “Charges usually end up being dropped because the law doesn’t apply.”

If/When/How and other reproductive rights groups pressure states toRoe vs. Wade laws criminalizing abortion and stepping up a campaign for the FDA to lift remaining restrictions on mifepristone and misopristol. Merrill says this would only make self-managed abortions even safer: ideally, no one would have to rely on the internet as their sole source of reproductive health care and could meet their reproductive health needs without fear of criminalization.

“We wish we didn’t even have to have a conversation on this site or this site,” Merrill said, referring to online abortion pill sellers. “Removing restrictions brings it out of the shadows and into more normalized commerce and telemedicine flows.”

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