A Dutch doctor who helps ship abortion-inducing pills to people living in countries where abortion is illegal has now expanded her services to the United States.
Rebecca Gomperts founded the online abortion service Women on Web, which performs remote consultations and sends people prescription pills for at-home, self-managed abortions, in 2005. But until recently, Gomperts had refrained from sending pills to the United States, where abortion is legal but often difficult to obtain, because she feared opposition from the American anti-abortion movement.
But six months ago, Gomperts started Aid Access, which will offer similar services to Women on Web to Americans who want abortions less than nine weeks into their pregnancies.
“I got an email from a woman who was living in a car with two kids,” Gomperts told the Atlantic, which first reported the news Thursday. “Something had to be done.”
Gomperts writes Americans prescriptions for mifepristone and misoprostol, which are more than 95 percent effective in ending pregnancies and commonly used in the United States. As a general-practice physician, she gets the prescriptions filled and shipped through an Indian pharmacy she trusts, the Atlantic reported.
This is all legal, Gomperts told the outlet, since the FDA allows people to import medications for their own personal use. But the FDA also strictly regulates the use of mifepristone in ending a pregnancy: Only certified health care providers can distribute it, and they must do so in a clinic, medical office, or hospital, according to a FDA statement to VICE News on Sunday.
In that statement, the FDA also indicated that it’s now investigating Aid Access. “The agency takes the allegations related to the sale of mifepristone in the U.S. through online distribution channels very seriously and is evaluating the allegations to assess potential violations of U.S. law,” the FDA’s statement read.
People who take the pills may also be forced grapple with a patchwork of murky state laws that could leave them facing legal consequences.
Aid Access did not immediately respond to a VICE News request for comment.
So far, Gomperts estimates she’s sent the pills to about 600 American women. Aid Access’s website suggests people who use the service pay $95, but it “will also try to help when you cannot afford this.”
Kristen Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America, told the Atlantic that she considers the Aid Access service to be risky. “The pro-life movement will absolutely be committed to preventing this dangerous business from harming American women,” Hawkins wrote in an email.
Medication abortion is already widespread within the United States — in 2014, 31 percent of all non-hospital abortions in the United States were performed via medication abortion, the Guttmacher Institute found. Most people undergoing medication abortion will take the first pill in the presence of a doctor and then follow up with a second pill, to complete the abortion, at home.
American women have already tried to find abortion-inducing pills online, a July study found, but other suppliers aren’t as reliable as Aid Access, according to Plan C, which rates online purveyors of medication abortion pills. The group gave Aid Access an “A” grade, based on shipping time, product quality, and its physician oversight.
Even when people use both mifepristone and misoprostol at home and without a doctor’s supervision, studies have also found medication abortion pills to be overwhelmingly safe. A 2016 FDA report found that the procedure “has been increasingly used as its efficacy and safety have become well-established by both research and experience, and serious complications have proven to be extremely rare.”
Editor's note 10/22 4:32 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with the FDA's comment on the legality of selling abortion pills online.
Cover image: Founder of Dutch abortion rights organization "Women on Waves", Rebecca Gomperts, gives a conference on contraception in Buenos Aires, Friday Dec. 10, 2004. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)