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NRL News
Page 19
January 2010
Volume 37
Issue 1

Selling Abortifacients to Women in Countries Where
Abortion is Illegal via the Internet

By Randall K. O'Bannon, Ph.D.

For years, international abortion advocates have diligently campaigned to get abortion legalized in countries where it is not. Now, thanks to the Internet and chemical abortifacients such as mifepristone (RU486) and the prostaglandin misoprostol, they are ignoring the law and shipping abortion drugs directly to women’s homes.

Click on the large “I need an abortion” headline at www.womenonweb.org, and you’ll be taken to Women on Web’s “online medical abortion service.” (Women on Web identifies itself as “a digital community of women who have had abortions and individuals and organizations that support abortion rights.”)

If you properly answer a series of questions on the web site, the group will refer you to a licensed doctor who will “provide you with a medical abortion” and ship you mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone starves the baby and misoprostol stimulates contractions to expel the tiny corpse.

That’s troubling enough, but there’s more. The program is only available to women living in countries where “access to safe abortion is restricted.”

Is it legal?” A page on the web site conveniently answers your question. “In most countries,” the site declares, “there is no violation in customs regulations when you receive the medicines at your home address.” The site tells women that mifepristone and misoprostol are listed as “essential medicines” by the World Health Organization and assures them that “[p]ersons are allowed to receive medicines for personal use only in most countries.”

There is no specific charge for the service, though recipients are “asked to give a minimum donation of 70 euros [currently about $100] to keep the website online and to ensure that this service can continue to help other women.” They also may have to pay a customs fee.

Women who want to go through with the process are asked to answer a series of about 25 questions about their pregnancy and their general health. If the questions uncover some health issue, e.g., a heart condition, the site does not automatically disqualify them. It simply asks for more information and may seek a commitment from the woman that she will take the medicines “in or nearby the waiting room of a hospital.”

If the woman makes it through the “consultation,” she is asked to read information about the drugs, contraindications (conditions that make it unsafe for her take the drugs), instructions on taking the pills, expected side effects, and possible complications.

After having clicked that she has read the material, she is taken to a page where she officially “declares” her request for the abortion. In that declaration, she agrees that she understands the instructions and the abortion process and promises to seek help in the event of a complication or allergic reaction. Interestingly enough, she also agrees to accept responsibility for the abortion, and agrees not to hold Women on Web liable for the abortion or the consultation.

Women are told that the package tends to arrive within 10 days.

While there are multiple and serious dangers associated with this whole enterprise, perhaps the most obvious is Women on Web’s willingness to send pills to a woman who is up to nine weeks pregnant. That means she may be eleven weeks pregnant by the time the drugs reach her. One reason that the U.S. government recommended use of RU486 only through seven weeks was that the “effectiveness” of the drugs drops off dramatically after that point. Issues like bleeding are also magnified when the drugs are used later in pregnancy.

By agreeing to indemnify Women on Web, legal and medical issues connected to the ordering, delivery, and use of the drugs become the woman’s responsibility. If she lies about her age (the consultation allows women as young as 16 to process applications) or health conditions to get the drugs, or is unaware of health problems, if she does not have the personal support or access to the medical care that she says she does, the problem—and the risk—is hers.

There have been nearly a dozen deaths and thousands of serious complications among the women who have taken the drugs in the U.S. and Europe, where they have been on the market for a number of years. How many will die with these abortifacients going to countries where decent medical care is scarce is a frightening prospect to consider.

The list of organizations supporting the network includes names both well known and obscure, from Women on Waves, the Global Fund for Women, Feminist Majority, several national family planning groups, and others.

The web site offers no specific data about how many women have used the service or how long it has been in operation. But it does feature the stories of hundreds of women from at least 64 countries, many from places where abortion is illegal, on its companion “I had an abortion” section which can also be reached from the main page.

Chemical abortions were promoted in the West as a way to make abortion a more “private” personal experience. But what is becoming apparent is many of its promoters also have seen it as a way to bring abortion into countries where it is illegal. And as this web site shows, they’ve already taken that idea quite far.