The job that could put me in jail started at the same time that the desperate emails did. Women searching for abortion-related terms online found something I had written, and started sending me desperate pleas.
These women had dire stories. Many were mothers already. They needed abortions, but the nearest clinic was three, four, six hours away. They'd need to go on more than one visit. They'd need childcare. They'd need more disposable income than they would have for the next three months. They had exhausted all their funding, and their state's abortion fund didn't have enough money to help them that week. Every week that passed made surgical abortions cost more, a cycle that kept some women perpetually on the brink of affording termination.
They told me they'd try anything: herbs, soaps. One asked if I knew how, exactly, it was that you went about using a wire hanger to abort.
Two or three days later, they would receive a small, unmarked envelope. Inside the envelope were doses of two different drugs that, when used together, will abort nearly any first-trimester pregnancy.
I am one of America's unlicensed, untrained illegal abortionists.
I don't know how many people like me are in the United States. I suspect most are women. I know that most of them so far are immigrants, and most of them, like me, never get near surgical abortion implements like cervical dilators or vacuum machines (much less crude methods like coat hangers).
In the United States, contrary to popular belief, it's not illegal to bring in prescription medications from somewhere else. As long as the medication isn't scheduled (a classification reserved only for addictive drugs), Americans can feel free to import a supply of up to 90 days' worth of any medication they like. Immigrants, who often know pharmacies they can trust in their home countries and have family able to ship medication across the border, are some of the most likely people to have access to these medications.
It's possible to get misoprostol (which will induce an early abortion about 80 percent of the time on its own) for just a dollar or two per dose from online pharmacies around the world. Mifepristone, which is added to misoprostol to make the over 95 percent effective drug combination sometimes called RU-486, ranges from $10 to $50 per dose. The higher per-pill pricing of mifepristone, however, means that the drug is prone to counterfeiting.
I send women what I can—misoprostol, or mifepristone/misoprostol in combination when I have some stocked. I know, when I do it, that it could be a devil's bargain—that this could be the envelope that gets traced back to me. This could be the one that lands me in prison. Or, even worse, it could be the one that kills someone. The abortion drugs rarely cause major complications (less often than birth), but they do happen. I don't know what I would do with that on my conscience. I haven't had to find out yet.
Since I'm an illegal abortionist these days, it might surprise you to know that I don't make any money from it. In fact, I'm out of pocket a little over a thousand dollars in total, due to purchasing and then giving away abortion pills. Some women have sent Paypal contributions when I send them pills, but if they don't, I don't argue. I'd rather get them what they need.Image by Jim Cooke