Pandemic, Texas law fuels interest in abortion drugs

TOPEKA, Kan. – The covid-19 pandemic and Texas’ virtual abortion ban have increased interest in getting abortion drugs by mail, but the legality of doing so is in doubt in several states.

The case takes on new urgency with the Supreme Court due to hear arguments next month in Mississippi’s attempt to erode the Roe v. Wade guaranteeing the right to abortion.

Some abortion rights advocates fear that no matter what promises from state officials and anti-abortion groups, those who terminate their pregnancies at home will face criminal prosecution.

“We don’t think people are doing anything wrong to order 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 this 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 health care provider.

In April, the Biden administration dropped the Food and Drug Administration’s ban on the mail delivery of abortive drugs during the pandemic.

“We just didn’t want women to use these drugs and have no protection, no guidance, no counseling,” said Oklahoma State Senator Julie Daniels, Republican and main sponsor of the law. of his State prohibiting the delivery of abortion drugs by mail. who is on hold in the middle of a legal challenge.

Plan C saw around 135,000 visits to its website in September, roughly nine times the number it had before Texas law banning abortion as early as six weeks pregnant went into effect on September 1, Wells said.

The division between the states with a democratic and republican tendency is marked in the region of Saint-Louis. On the Illinois side, Planned Parenthood offers telemedicine consultations and prescriptions by mail. Missouri, however, bans telemedicine and requires a pre-abortion pelvic exam, which providers consider unnecessary and invasive.

“In Missouri, we are not offering medical abortion due to the state requirement,” said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, regional office chief medical officer.

Opponents of abortion don’t expect the FDA’s restriction on abortion 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 to Texas goes into effect on December 2. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem issued an executive order in September.

Even some abortion opponents believe 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 is no quick fix yet identified on how we are going to approach this kind of next frontier in combat.”

Still, Seago says stiff penalties are prompting prosecutors to prosecute offenders. Montana law, for example, imposes a sentence of 20 years in prison, a fine of $ 50,000 or both on anyone who sends pills to a resident of the state.

Pregnant women request telemedicine consultations and abortion pills by mail because they do not want or cannot travel or cannot arrange time off or childcare, abortion rights activists say .

“Just because someone can’t access an abortion doesn’t mean they’re going to suddenly want to continue with a pregnancy that was originally unwanted, right?” said Dr Meera Shah, chief medical officer of the Planned Parenthood branch outside New York City, which also performs abortions in Indiana.

New laws in Montana, Oklahoma and Texas state that people cannot face criminal penalties for having undergone medical abortions. Yet these provisions – and the assurances from abortion enemies that their goal is not to prosecute those who have terminated a pregnancy – do not come as any comfort to some abortion rights advocates.

They claim that around 24 women have been prosecuted since 2000 for self-administered abortions.

Some abortion rights advocates have said prosecutors can also use child endangering or manslaughter charges against people who have had an abortion – or who have miscarried as authorities consider it suspicious. They fear that the poor and people of color are particularly vulnerable.

“They can’t get drugs where they are, so they can buy pills from informal networks or online sites,” said Melissa Grant, director of operations at carafem, which runs clinics in four. States and provides drugs for abortion in nine. “But it’s riskier in this country than actually taking the drugs.”

Containers of drugs used to terminate an early pregnancy lay on a table inside a family planning clinic on Friday, October 29, 2021 in Fairview Heights, Ill.. Women with unwanted pregnancies increasingly consider receiving abortion pills in the mail. (AP Photo / Jeff Roberson)

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