A Dutch doctor is suing the Food and Drug Administration for allegedly interfering with the operation of her online service, Aid Access, where she prescribes abortion medication to United States residents, NPR reports.
In the lawsuit, Rebecca Gomperts, the licensed physician who runs the site, accused the FDA of seizing packages containing “between three and 10 individual doses of misoprostol and mifepristone,” the two drugs Gomperts’s patients receive by mail to end their pregnancies. Gomperts also believes the agency has asked two online money transfer services to stop conducting business with her, in attempts to block patients from sending the $90 payments for the pills she prescribes through Aid Access.
Gomperts said these alleged attacks on her service have come in the aftermath of a notice the FDA sent her in March, instructing her to cease and desist the operation of the site. In the notice, the agency said Aid Access poses an “inherent risk to consumers” because it lacks FDA oversight, and violates the decades-old regulations on mifepristone, which require health care providers to administer the drug in person, at a hospital or clinic.
In a July statement to VICE, an FDA spokesperson said that if Gomperts refused to comply, Aid Access could be subject to “FDA regulatory action, including seizure or injunction, without further notice.” (When asked about the allegations leveled in Gomperts's lawsuit, an FDA spokesperson said the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation.)
Despite these warnings, Gomperts announced in May that she had consulted a lawyer and would continue to operate the site. In an interview with VICE last week, she said she’s willing to fight the FDA in court.
"I sincerely believe there is a human right here to be defended,” she said. “What I’m doing is in accordance with all the human rights agreements that exist, as well as the U.S. Constitution.”
Gomperts sees Aid Access as an essential service: According to the new suit, she’s received 37,077 requests for abortion pills through the site since March 30, 2018—the first day Aid Access was officially up and running—and written 7,131 prescriptions as a result. Recent findings show that the vast majority of people seeking out Gomperts’s services reside in states like Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, where abortion access is heavily restricted.
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But the broader landscape of access to the procedure is no less dire: As of 2014, 90 percent of U.S. counties had no abortion clinic, and 39 percent of women of reproductive age lived in one of those counties. Aid Access has served women in all 50 states, according to Gomperts.
“For many women seeking to terminate their unwanted pregnancies prior to viability, the only practical option is found on the internet,” the suit reads. “Plaintiffs Dr. Rebecca Gomperts and Aid Access help such women in the U.S. exercise their constitutionally protected right to safely terminate their pregnancies prior to viability.”
Abortion rights supporters worry what the FDA’s crackdown on Aid Access means for the people who are relying on the service—those who may wait for pills that never come.
Robin Marty, the author of Handbook for a Post-Roe America, said she’s noticed users on an abortion-related Reddit thread posting about missing packages from Aid Access. Some users on the thread noticed their packages were delayed in customs or stuck at a nearby sorting center.
“I know there are people getting meds from Aid Access who complain they never show,” Marty said. She said she expects the FDA to continue to seize abortion medication while “claiming they are simply ‘protecting’ Americans from harm.”
But the way Gomperts sees it, she’s the one protecting Americans from harm. In a press release, she included examples of emails she’s received from people who have requested her services. The first email is from a teenager who told Gomperts she couldn’t afford to pay for the pills. "I am wanting to end this unwanted pregnancy,” she wrote. “I am unable to make a donation, my mom receives disability. I am only 14. I hope that your organization will be able to assist me."
The second email read: “I've been in an abusive [relationship] for five years, and I have two young children. This is the first time I’ve felt like I've had any real control of my future. Thank you Aid Access for not letting him further take my life. You’ve given me hope."
Gomperts said she can’t abandon these patients, and argued the FDA can’t force her to.
“As a doctor, my only duty is to serve my patients in a way that’s in the best interest of their health—that’s the vow I took,” Gomperts said. “I keep my patients above everything, and that’s what I’m doing.”
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