No more abortion pills in the mail, with uncertain legality – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

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Before the birth of her daughter, she spent weeks in bed. Another difficult pregnancy would be worse as she tried to care for her toddler.

Faced with the possibility, the 28-year-old Texas woman did what a growing number of people envisioned: asked a friend in another state to send her the pills she needed to terminate her pregnancy. She took the pills, went to bed early, and described the experience as “calm” and “peaceful”.

“If people can give birth in birthing centers or in their own homes, why can’t people have an abortion in their own home? Said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she worries about legal reprisals as Texas joins several other states in banning the mail delivery of abortion drugs. “It’s a comfort thing.”

The COVID-19 pandemic and Texas’ near abortion ban have sparked increased interest in getting abortion drugs by mail. But with legality in doubt in several states, some people looking to get around the restrictions may not consider the risk worth it. 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 regardless of promises from state officials and anti-abortion groups, those terminating 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 if it’s 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. And until Democrat Joe Biden became president, US government policy prohibited mail delivery across the country.

“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 about 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.

Aid Access, which helps women get abortion pills and covers the costs for those who cannot afford them, says it cannot provide data for the past few months yet. According to a University of Texas study, the number of people seeking abortion pills has increased by 27% in the United States as states instituted restrictions at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The biggest increase was in Texas, which had limited access to clinics, saying there was a need to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Aid Access has a European-based doctor, Dr Rebecca Gomperts, who provides prescriptions to clients in 32 states that only allow doctors to do so. The pills are shipped from India.

“I don’t think state-level regulations can prevent Dr Gomperts from doing what she does,” said Christie Pitney, a California nurse-midwife who is an Aid Access provider for this. State and Massachusetts.

Indeed, Aid Access defied a 2019 order from the Food and Drug Administration to stop the distribution of drugs in the United States.

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.

Abortion opponents 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 leave or childcare, abortion rights activists say .

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

A person from Ohio who identifies as non-binary said he used an herbal remedy to handle an abortion on her own in her college dorm in 2016, before Aid Access launched its site, telling her roommate he had stomach flu. They said they didn’t have a car and didn’t know they could get financial help, and called the access help model “fantastic”.

“Any opportunity to help pregnant women facilitate their own abortions and have this experience in the way that works best for them is a great way to restore bodily autonomy to a wider range of patients,” they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they fear harassment. anti-abortion protesters.

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

They say about two dozen women have been prosecuted since 2000 over self-administered abortions. An Indiana woman who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide in 2015 for a self-induced abortion spent more than a year behind bars before her conviction was overturned.

Some abortion rights advocates have said prosecutors can also use child endangerment 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.”

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