This week, news outlets like The Daily Beast and Vox reported that an abortion pill ordering service called Aid Access is being investigated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Aid Access is a six-month-old online company started by a Dutch physician named Rebecca Gomperts. They “support women who are not able to access local services” by allowing them to do an online consultation and, if they qualify, receive abortion pills in the mail, provided their pregnancy is at about 9 weeks or younger.
The startup’s site is full of typical jargon: “For many women, girls and trans men it is very difficult to access abortion care because of the cost of abortion, mandatory 24-72 hour waiting periods, the requirement of parental consent for minors, or the fact that clinics have been forced to close completely…Aid Access supports women who cannot otherwise access an abortion and protects their human rights.”
Ordering Abortion Pills Online Is Legally Suspect
Pill-induced (also called medical) abortions are increasingly sought after, especially in states where the nearest abortion clinic is difficult to get to. They can be obtained up to about 10 weeks’ gestation using a two-drug combination of mifepristone and misoprostol that’s widely deemed safe if administered correctly to women experiencing normal pregnancies (although the two-drug combo can be quite dangerous, for example, to women with ectopic pregnancies, and online services like Aid Access do not require physician supervision for administering the meds).
Online pill abortion delivery services are legally suspect in the United States, so Aid Access obtains their pills from pharmacies in India. Thus far, the FDA has not found significant issues with adulteration of the pills. Still, the agency is concerned about the group’s sourcing of their drugs, since mifepristone has been linked to 22 deaths to date. It’s unclear how these deaths occurred and why people aren’t more alarmed by them.
Since mifepristone is not legally available over the internet in the United States, Aid Access is potentially violating the law by selling abortifacient pills. The actual act of self-inducing an abortion is also currently illegal in many states, although women are not regularly prosecuted under these laws. These laws are also relatively rare–a Guttmacher study indicates that only about 1 percent of women seeking abortions attempt to self-abort with misoprostol, for example. This might change, though, as online ordering services become more readily available and pill abortions become coveted for allowing discretion.
Regardless of what the FDA finds, every pro-life person should be concerned about the growing shift in easily obtainable abortion pills being shipped en masse from around the world. Aid Access is just the start of what is likely to be a new, macabre trend in the global reproductive “rights” movement. Now, in 2018, killing a fetus can be done in the privacy of one’s own home, with pills sourced easily and quietly from one’s web browser. A life can end and no one has to know except your credit company and search history.
Unfortunately, this isn’t really surprising. College activists in California recently tried to lobby their legislature for on-campus abortion pills.
On-Campus Abortions At Public Schools In California?
Last month, California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed S.B. 320, a bill which would’ve mandated that public colleges and universities in California provide on-campus abortion pills for students. He didn’t do so out of principle, of course. Instead, he justified his decision with a study that showed students have such impressively convenient access to abortion clinics in California’s metropolitan areas that on-campus abortions are unnecessary. There are simply too many options for college students to obtain abortions!
But this won’t be the last we hear from pro-choice activists who lamented Brown’s decision, saying, “It is particularly unconscionable that Gov. Jerry Brown chose to turn his back on students’ experiences and instead hide behind bogus claims to deny increased access to abortion. He completely discounted the burden that travel, time, and additional costs can impose on students.”
Democrats of the ‘90s claimed to pursue the “safe, legal, and rare” abortion framework. Now it seems that rare won’t do, safe isn’t necessarily a prerequisite, and legal means not only must the federal government permit it, but must also ensure that each state has clinics dotting each region, as to not impose an undue burden on any woman. And if you’re a college student, “legal” means your abortion pills should be easily picked up on your way back to your dorm from the cafeteria, or else you’ve been burdened.
Let’s be clear about what this is: abortion becoming a commonplace part of our society.
On one hand, leftist pro-choicers need not fear potential Supreme Court rollbacks of their abortion powers if the free market is providing decently safe alternatives (the jury is still out on whether Aid Access’s alternatives are, in fact, safe). In fact, this might give would-be socialists a taste of the innovation the free market can provide.
On the other hand, pro-life libertarians like myself should worry about what this signals about our culture. It’s decently easy to get even pro-choice people on board with the fact that third-trimester abortions are somewhere between indecent and morally reprehensible; but what about first-trimester abortions? Will the day soon come when you can order abortifacients on Amazon Prime?
What Does This Say About Our Culture?
It doesn’t take much stretching of the imagination to consider a future in which we’re culturally indifferent to first-trimester abortions. Plan B is readily supplied on many college campuses, and its use is broadly accepted (the ethics of which are still hotly contested among Catholics). A Refinery 29 headline from last year read, “What Do We Want? A Plan B Vending Machine! When Do We Want It? Now!”
Many abortion moderates draw their ethical lines at viability, or somewhere between 22 and 24 weeks. A Gallup headline from earlier this year read, “Trimesters Still Key to U.S. Abortion Views,” stating that around 60 percent of Americans believe abortions during the first trimester of pregnancy are morally permissible. Interestingly, support for second-trimester abortions is slightly less than half that–only about 28 percent of Americans believe them to be ethically acceptable–and support for third-trimester abortions hovers at a measly 13 percent.
That’s good and bad news for pro-lifers. It shows that many people are not firmly entrenched in either camp, and believe there is some point during pregnancy at which a fetus becomes deserving of legal and cultural protection. It also shows that people feel a visceral discomfort with aborting a fetus that looks and seems like a living baby.
The bad news, though, is that their discomfort does not extend to the fetus when it’s at an early point of development, during which they can brush it off as a “clump of cells.” This cognitive dissonance is frustrating, and I wonder, as abortion pills become widespread, private alternatives to in-clinic abortions, whether much of our culture will look at them as akin to Plan B.
It’s up to pro-lifers to make the continued case that life, even in the first trimester, is worth protecting, and that we should continue to provoke thoughtful discussion on the ethics of abortion among our ideological allies and opponents alike.