For the past six months or so, Aid Access, which is “run by a team of medical doctors and long-term abortion rights activists,” has been quietly providing prescriptions for medical abortions after website visitors fill out an online questionnaire. They are now being investigated by the FDA for distributing mifepristone.
Aid Access was founded by Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, who also started Women On Web. Both sites provide mail-order mifepristone and misoprostol for medical abortions.
Gomperts states she was “being inundated with requests from women in countries such as the United States,” but did not want to risk her Women on Web site, so she made a separate site for orders to the States.
The prescriptions run about $95 and are reportedly filled by “a pharmacy in India she knows and trusts.”
A lot of coverage for Aid Access has been generated, with many news stories focusing on easy access to abortion (assuming abortion is healthcare, and a right) and proclaiming impending doom to Roe v. Wade and therefore abortion access. The stories are also pushing the narrative that abortion is sometimes the only way out of a hard circumstance, and medical abortion is a very, very safe procedure.
This is hardly true. In fact, medical abortion can have many complications, including infection, incomplete abortion, and hemorrhaging. A study done recently in Sweden showed at-home abortion complication rates can be over 8%. And these are women who went to a doctor’s office or hospital, had an ultrasound, were given specific instructions on how to use the medication, and had follow-up visits after the procedure.
However, to get abortion-inducing medication through Aid Access, you simply fill out a questionnaire.
You have the option of submitting an ultrasound photo, but it is not required. The questions start by asking if you have an “wanted pregnancy,” and proceed to ask about pregnancy test/ultrasound, how far along you might be based on your last menstrual period, if you have certain medical conditions, if you take any medications, your blood type, and other health-related questions. There are also questions included asking about your feelings on the decision and for you to verify you are not being forced into having an abortion. It all seems very thorough, things a regular doctor should and would ask.
But that is the kicker. You are not seeing a doctor. Any person can take the questionnaire, skip providing an ultrasound photo, lie or make up answers to the rest of the questions, and get a prescription approved.
This means women who have not had ultrasounds to see how far along there are, have an ectopic pregnancy, are further along than 10 weeks but still want to try to get a medical abortion, and other people who want the pregnant person to not be pregnant anymore could easily and for a low price get abortion-inducing medication.
While the FDA does allow personal importation of drugs under certain conditions, one of the pills in the medical abortion regimen, mifepristone, is not FDA-approved for buying over the internet from foreign providers. Additionally, Gomperts is not using the pills for personal use. She is distributing to other people. The FDA has guidelines for personal importation of drugs, and “commercial distribution” is one reason a personal importation may be refused.
It seems though Gomperts claims everything is legal, even the Aid Access website seems to undermine her message by stating,
“...it is very difficult to access abortion care because of the cost of abortion, mandatory 24-72 hour waiting periods, the requirement of parental consent for minors, or the fact that clinics have been forced to close completely. Privacy concerns, abusive relationships, and other challenges can also make it impossible to secure a safe abortion. Aid Access supports women who cannot otherwise access an abortion and protects their human rights. Unfortunately some countries violate human rights and try to prosecute women who induced their own abortion.”
It certainly sounds like Aid Access is into providing abortions even if it means bypassing laws and putting vulnerable women at risk to do so.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.