New Front in Abortion Fight May Be Over Pills

'This is just not going to be stoppable,' says legal expert
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 5, 2022 12:54 PM CDT
Potential Workaround to Abortion Ban: Mailed Pills
This 2010 file photo shows bottles of abortion pills at a clinic in Des Moines, Iowa.   (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, file)

Women have been getting around Texas' strict abortion law by ordering abortion pills from out of state or overseas. So could women across the country do the same if the Supreme Court overturns the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision ensuring abortion rights nationwide as expected? Here's the latest talk:

  • A potential workaround: Medication abortion using the two drugs mifepristone and misoprostol, which can be taken at home, is "viewed as a way to circumvent" abortion bans, Reuters reports, noting visits to Aid Access, an online service that mails the medications to patients within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, were up 2,900% on Tuesday from a day earlier.

  • Spike in traffic: The number of women requesting prescriptions for abortion pills or information about their use through Aid Access, headquartered in Austria, has tripled since the Supreme Court's draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked, according to Christie Pitney, CEO of DC telehealth practice Forward Midwifery, which works with Aid Access, per Reuters. She adds clinicians are "stocking up [on the pills] to make sure that they have access."
  • How it works: Sales of abortion pills via telehealth—through which patients meet virtually with doctors who send a prescription to a local pharmacy—are legal in 20 US states. In states where sales are restricted, Aid Access works with European doctors who fill prescriptions through a mail-order pharmacy in India. Though the FDA has ordered Aid Access to cease this practice, state authorities say enforcement is a challenge.

  • Hard to trace: Nineteen states already ban the use of telemedicine for abortion. But mailed abortion pills are hard to trace. "This is just not going to be stoppable," University of Chicago law professor Gerald Rosenberg tells the Washington Post. "It's going to generate a lot of forthcoming legal conflicts because it's just going to be a way that state borders are going to become less relevant," Mary Ziegler, a visiting law professor at Harvard, tells the New York Times.
  • But not impossible: As an IP address would reveal a user's location, patients may need to travel to a state where abortion pills can be prescribed through telehealth appointments and picked up from a post office box or hotel, per the Times. However, legal experts expect states to try to prevent this by targeting health-care providers in states where abortion is legal.

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  • Counter move: In response, states in support of abortion could follow Connecticut's lead in passing a bill that would prevent abortion providers from being extradited to other states, per the Times. Two bills moving through the California legislature would protect patients and health-care providers from civil penalties in states where abortion is banned and protect the licenses of state abortion providers who offer care to those in jurisdictions where the service is banned, per the Post.
(Read more abortion pill stories.)

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