Website Helps Women to Self-Induce Abortions Using Pill

An international advocacy group concerned about restrictive laws in the United States plans to help women use the abortion pill at home, offering online advice and counseling about how to use medications the Food and Drug Administration says should be taken only by prescription and under medical supervision.

Women Help Women, a three-year-old organization headquartered in the Netherlands, this week launched a website to provide one-on-one counseling services for women early in pregnancy who may have illegally obtained the pill on the Internet or through other means.

Kinga Jelinska, executive director of Women Help Women, said her organization provides a version of the service in other countries but decided to launch in the United States this year because of the political climate. Republican-led states have enacted a raft of abortion restrictions in recent years, and President Trump has said he supports overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized the procedure nationally.

“There is a lot of fear and worry that, with the current administration and restrictions that are to the enormous disadvantage of girls and women, that access to clinical care might further diminish,” said Jelinska, an anthropologist and longtime reproductive rights advocate from Poland, where abortion is illegal except in narrow circumstances.

The launch of the site is likely to add fuel to the debate about abortion, particularly those that are done using medication. Medically induced abortions accounted for nearly a third of all non-hospital abortions in the United States in 2014 and almost half of all abortions before nine weeks’ gestation, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research organization.

It also raises questions about the legal ramifications for women using the site, and whether encouraging women to take matters into their own hands this way is safe.

The abortion pill approved by the FDA is actually two drugs that may be used in combination through the 10th week of pregnancy. Taken during 24 to 48 hours, the drugs — mifepristone and misoprostol — halt the development of pregnancy and induce miscarriage. The agency recommends medical supervision followed by an in-person follow-up appointment, and it warns people not to obtain the pills over the Internet because they might be unsafe.

Abortion foes have sought further restrictions on the medications in the name of safety. A number of women have contracted infections or needed blood transfusions after a medication abortion, and some have died, although the FDA says it is unclear whether the drugs caused the deaths.

“These drugs are dangerous. They are deadly. If they are mishandled, they result in serious injury,” said Kristi Hamrick, spokeswoman for Americans United for Life, an antiabortion group that has tried to push states to require strict medical supervision for the use of abortion medications. “To just distribute them and put them in an automatic dispenser like a can of soda is absolutely medical malpractice.”

Abortion rights groups say that severe side effects from the drugs are rare; a 2015 study looking at more than 11,000 medication abortions in California found that the incidence of major complications was .31 percent.

While there is limited research about self-induced abortion in the United States, women have been performing them for generations. Today’s favored method in the United States happens to be pills, obtained via the Internet or in Mexico, where misoprostol can be purchased over the counter. Home-based abortions are safer for women than they’ve ever been, advocates say.

“There . . . are people who view this as progress, the evolution of abortion care, and an incredible opportunity to transcend the very contentious abortion debate,” said Jill E. Adams, chief strategist for the Self-Induced Abortion Legal Team at the University of California at Berkeley.

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Source: Washington Post