The crackdown on abortion in states like Georgia and Alabama has left women feeling insecure about their ability to end a pregnancy. One sign of that: Sites that provide information on how to self-administer abortion drugs have seen a spike in traffic in recent days.
Medication abortion—a combination of the drugs that can safely end a pregnancy in the first 10 weeks—is generally available only at doctors offices and health clinics. But certain websites offer the medication for purchase online, skirting the stringent FDA regulations on the medication and shipping it directly to buyers’ houses.
Plan C and SASS—two sites that provide information on purchasing and self-administering abortion pills—told The Daily Beast they saw an increase in site traffic over the last week, after Alabama passed a law banning almost all abortions in the state. The law has yet to take effect but its passage made national headlines, leading some people to fear abortion was already illegal in their state.
Amy Merrill, the founder of Plan C, said her site saw an eight-fold increase in traffic the day the ban passed the Senate. Susan Yanow, a spokesperson for SASS (Self-managed Abortion; Safe and Supported) said their website saw a nearly 35 percent spike in traffic over the last week.
But Yanow emphasized that could simply reflect increased curiosity about medication abortion—not necessarily hordes of women rushing to stock up on the drug.
“With these increasing restrictions, people are more interested in all of their options,” Yanow said. “But interested is different than doing it.
Merrill, however, said that her site—which does not sell abortion medication directly—had seen an increase in women writing in to request the drugs. Many of the women were already single mothers, she said, and others were in abusive relationships. She pointed them toward the resources listed on the Plan C site.
“Some of [their stories] are just gut-wrenching,” Merrill said. “I think as these laws pass, people get scared about access and they’re thinking, ‘What are my other choices if my state is going to say abortion is illegal?’”
More than half of all U.S. state legislatures introduced some kind of abortion restriction in the first quarter of 2019, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Four states, including Georgia and Mississippi, passed laws banning the procedure after six weeks gestation. The Alabama legislation—the most extreme of the group—banned virtually all abortions, including in cases of rape and incest.
Yanow said she had also seen an increase in requests for SASS’s in-person medication abortion trainings since the Georgia law passed in March. She estimated her organization has received three to four times the number of requests than usual over the last month.
Yanow’s trainings center on the idea that knowledge is power, and that women should be informed of all options available to them. The three-hour lessons cover the abortion medication protocol, possible side effects, and signs of a complication. They also cover sticky topics like the line between giving information on medication abortion and giving advice, and what to do if you need medical attention.
That’s because medication abortion—while largely physically safe—can be legally risky. A number of state and federal laws make it possible to prosecute women for performing their own abortions, and a small number of women have been arrested for doing do in the past. In most cases, the charges were eventually thrown out.
Rebecca Gomperts, the founder of medication abortion website Aid Access, knows the legal risk well. Six months after the Dutch physician started shipping abortion pills to women in the U.S., she received a letter from the FDA ordering her to cease operations.
Gomperts complied until last week, when her attorney sent a strongly-worded letter to the agency claiming they were violating women’s constitutional right to abortion. The letter was dated March 16—one day after Gov. Kay Ivey signed the Alabama ban into law.
Gomperts told The Daily Beast she had resumed shipping abortion pills to the U.S. because of the inequality and injustice she saw in U.S. abortion access.
“The women I am writing prescriptions for do not have any other alternative,” she said. “The obstacles that women are facing in some of the states are insurmountable.”
These are the people who have the least support, the least protection from their government,” she added. “It raises interesting questions about why that always happens.”