In Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, where lawmakers have recently passed bills severely restricting or banning abortion, people have been relying on a mail-order service to access pills as a safe and affordable way to terminate a pregnancy. Naturally, the existence of such a service is also currently under attack.
In a six-month period between October 2018 and March 2019, 21,000 people in the United States reached out to Aid Access, an organization started by Rebecca Gomperts, the founder of the Netherlands-based abortion-pill distributor Women on Web, the Guardian reports. Not everyone who contacts the organization receives the medication—prospective clients must first pass an online consultation. Those who qualify receive Mifepristone and Misoprostol, which, when taken as directed, have been proven to be safe at terminating pregnancy. According to the data reviewed by the Guardian, more than a third (but less than half) of the people who requested the pills in that six month period received them. Notably, most of these requests came from states where abortion access has been severely cut back.
The mere existence of Aid Access is a testament to how successfully access to abortion has been restricted across the United States—and not just in places like Georgia and Alabama, where laws severely limit or ban abortion. In states with a dwindling number of abortion clinics, having a procedure requires the time and finances to undergo extensive travel, which essentially puts abortions out of reach to many.“For people on a low income, the legal right to abortion is almost a moot point,” Abigail Aiken, an assistant professor from UT Austin, told the Guardian. In those instances, a mail-order abortion pill, is an obvious workaround.
Though Aid Access has been serving tens of thousands of people, its status in the U.S. has also been threatened. In March, the Food and Drug Administration sent a letter to Aid Access requesting that the charity stop selling Mifepristone and Misoprostol, which the FDA refers to as “misbranded and unapproved new drugs,” even though the drugs are legal in the U.S. and can be found at abortion provider clinics. Ordering such medications online is safe and affordable for many, but it’s an option that wouldn’t have to exist if the legal right to abortion was protected by state and federal governments. That Aid Access will have to fight to stick around shows how easily progress can be reversed.