Pro-choice protesters
Credit: Romel Jacinto/Flickr

Contrary to what Sen. Susan Collins would have you believe, the addition of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court means that it is only a matter of time before Roe v. Wade is overturned and the legality of women’s access to abortion is left to the states. That was made obvious by the support Kavanaugh got from court evangelicals and other anti-abortion activists. Conservatives might not go there immediately, opting instead to continue to chip away at the ruling. But there is no doubt about where this is all headed.

As that reality sets in, it is important to keep in mind that a lot has changed since Roe v. Wade was decided back in 1973. The idea that its demise will return this country to the days of back alley and bloody coat hanger abortions is something that should be soundly rejected, because science has provided us with alternatives. That’s why I found this report from Olga Khazan to be extremely important.

For years, an organization called Women on Web has given women a way to perform their own medication-induced abortions at home. The organization would, remotely, do online consultations, fill prescriptions, and ship pills that trigger miscarriages to women who live in countries where abortion is illegal. Several studies have shown that the service is safe.

For American women who’ve wanted pills, though, there’s been one major problem: Women on Web wouldn’t ship to the United States. American women could (and do) instead search online for abortion pills, but some of the medicines and pharmacies they’ve found have been less than reliable. Now Women on Web’s founder, a doctor named Rebecca Gomperts, has launched a new service that she says is just as safe as Women on Web, and it does ship to the United States. The cost is $95, but the website says the service will try to help women who can’t pay.

Just like Women on Web, the new service, Aid Access, will screen women for their eligibility to take the pills—they should not be more than nine weeks pregnant—through an online process. (If the pills are taken later, they are less likely to work.) Gomperts will herself fill each woman’s prescription for misoprostol and mifepristone, which together are about 97 percent effective in causing an abortion within the first trimester and already account for a third of all abortions in the United States. She then sends the prescriptions to an Indian pharmacy she trusts, and it ships the pills to women at their homes in the United States.

Gomperts started Aid Access six months ago and so her decision wasn’t directly related to Kavanaugh’s confirmation or the impending demise of Roe v. Wade. Even before that happens, there are large swaths of the country where women don’t have access to a complete array of reproductive health services.

Anti-abortion groups are already claiming that these procedures are unsafe, even as they are the ones who work to deny women access to in-patient alternatives. But we should be used to the kind of fear-mongering lies they’ve been telling about abortion for decades. Here’s what the World Health Organization says about these practices:

A person’s ability to self-administer mifepristone and misoprostol after receiving instructions from a provider is well established, and there is evidence that it is safe and effective for someone to do so without the direct supervision of a provider. WHO recommends this option if the individual has “a source of accurate information and access to a health-care provider should they need or want it at any stage of the process.”

Khazan ends with this quote from Gomperts: “I hope I will be the first of many others so I won’t be in a situation where I can’t deal with the amount of requests.” It sounds like the good doctor could use some help right now. But in addition to fighting to maintain Roe v. Wade, pro-choice activists should be working to ensure that when abortion becomes illegal, no woman ever has to resort to back alleys and coat hangers. That will be made possible by the establishment of a full array of safe alternatives, like the one Dr. Gomperts has been providing in countries where abortion is illegal since 2001.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.