Gynuity Health Projects

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Obtaining abortion pills from the internet feasible in US

10/10/2017

A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Contraception found that obtaining abortion pills from online pharmaceutical websites is feasible in the United States. The study was conducted by Gynuity Health Projects and Plan C, two public health organizations, between December 2016 and March 2017.

In the study, purchasers in four states ordered pills for abortion from 16 websites and received 20 packages containing mifepristone and misoprostol. None of the websites required a prescription or medical information before sending the pills. The sites charged between $35 and $360 for the products, which arrived between 3-21 business days after ordering. None of the packages included instructions, and some of the blisters containing the pills were damaged. Nevertheless, laboratory testing found that most of the products received contained the labeled active ingredients in amounts sufficient to cause a successful early abortion.

Medical abortion, which means abortion using drugs without a procedure, is increasingly widespread in the United States. In 2014, the combination of mifepristone and misoprostol was used for nearly half of early abortions provided at outpatient clinics and medical offices.

When used correctly, this regimen is about 99% effective in ending a pregnancy in the first 9 weeks, and serious complications are very rare. When used correctly, this regimen is about 99% effective in ending a pregnancy in the first 9 weeks, and serious complications are very rare. However, the mifepristone that is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration is available only from a doctor or other licensed prescriber.

“Access to abortion through the formal health care system is very difficult for many women in the United States, and we know that some women are looking online to obtain abortion pills,” said Dr. Elizabeth Raymond, Senior Medical Associate at Gynuity and one of the study researchers. “The fact that our study found no evidence that the products we received were dangerous or ineffective is therefore certainly reassuring,” she added.

The study authors caution, however, that their findings represent only a snapshot of specific websites at the time of the study; the quality of the products that these or other websites may sell now is unknown.

Ordering unapproved abortion medications without a prescription from online websites may have legal consequences; to date, at least 18 people in the United States have been arrested or convicted on charges related to self-induced abortion.

“We need to reduce barriers to abortion in this country so that people do not have to take medical or legal risks to obtain this essential health care service,” noted Raymond.

Article: Murtagh, Chloe; Wells, Elisa; Raymond, Elizabeth; Coeytaux, Francine; Winikoff, Beverly. Exploring the Feasibility of Obtaining Mifepristone and Misoprostol from the Internet, Contraception (October 10, 2017).