Abortion Pills Are Legal All Over The World — So What Does That Mean For Texas?

by Virginia Duan
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To the astonishment of no one, the conversation about and around abortion is often clouded in religious rhetoric — high on judgment and low on facts. Given the prevalence of the general public conflating Plan B with abortion pills thanks to morons elected to public office (ahem, Marjorie Taylor Greene), it makes sense that many folks could stand to be a bit more educated on the subject.

In related news, since September 1, SB 8 has significantly impacted the life choices of pregnant people in Texas — and not positively. Okay, that seems a bit too staid and stiff to properly convey the WTF magnitude of the pernicious and evil new Texas law effectively banning almost all abortions after six weeks pregnancy — even if the pregnancy is a result of rape, sexual abuse, or incest.

Interest in abortion pills has skyrocketed

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the law from taking effect back in September and though a federal judge temporarily blocked the enforcement of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S. for two days, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit granted a request to temporarily suspend it.

Given the fact that SB 8 bars abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected — which is often before most women realize they are pregnant — the back and forth that has both confused and caused a fuck-ton of stress to people who can get pregnant (and perhaps are but no longer wish to be so) in Texas and folks who consider Texas a bellwether. (In other words, the time it took for you to read that sentence was likely longer than many people would have had to have an abortion.)

Is it any surprise then, that since the SB 8 has passed, experts say that interest in abortion pills in the U.S. has boomed?

Officially known as a medical abortion (medication abortion), an abortion pill references the medically-prescribed drugs people take to induce an abortion. Typically, people are prescribed and then take two pills: mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone officially ends the pregnancy by blocking the hormone progesterone and breaking down the uterine lining — without which, a pregnancy terminates. Misoprostol then induces contractions in the uterus, causing cramping and bleeding similar to a miscarriage.

Incidentally, both drugs are listed as essential medicines by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use up to 10 weeks of pregnancy in the U.S. since 2000, medical abortions consisted of 39% of all abortions as of 2017 and are far less invasive than surgical abortions. With a success rate of 95%, the use of abortion pills is safe — and about 30 times safer than carrying a pregnancy to term and giving birth.

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Abortion pills commonly used all over the world

Anti-abortion laws never actually reduce the number of abortions — they only drive abortions underground — at great risk to the physical and mental health of the pregnant person — not to mention the costs (travel, lodging, lost wages, or child care) associated with crossing borders (state or otherwise) to receive proper medical care.

According to Chris Purdy, chief executive of family planning products provider DKT International, sales of abortion medication is booming worldwide. In India, 74% of reported abortions are medical and in Sweden, it accounts for 93% of abortions. In several Latin American countries, misoprostol can be easily found in (and outside) pharmacies or in feminist collectives or Facebook groups.

What does that mean for Texas?

As one can imagine, if a person is determined to get an abortion, they will obtain one — either by crossing state or country lines, or by self-managed abortions and forgoing official medical care. Abortion pills by mail are one way that people in Texas can currently have access to a safe abortion without technically breaking Texas law (for now).

After all, abortion pills are legal when prescribed — although 19 states require the clinician administering the pills to be physically present. According to Plan C, a 501c3 group that helps people get access to a medication abortion, people who want to self manage their abortions can purchase the pills through online pharmacies by either crossing into Mexico or by first forwarding their mail to an address in a state that allows for legal telemedicine abortion.

Many people turn to organizations like Aid Access, a nonprofit organization that uses their U.S. doctors to help provide access to medical abortion by mail to the 14 U.S. states (including California and New York) where it’s permitted. For folks who don’t live within those states, Aid Access refers them to vetted Indian pharmacies, which will ship the medications to the U.S. Generally, the costs range from $105 to $150 and can be discounted based on need.

Associate professor of public affairs at the University of Texas Abigail Aiken told the Washington Post that Aid Access exists in a “gray area on the part of people who run the service, but for people in Texas, there’s nothing in our state law that they’re breaking.” Aiken added that there are legal risks.

In fact, U.S. prosecutors have used criminal laws such as fetal homicide and improper disposal of fetal remains to charge and convict women who have self-induced abortions — even stillbirths and miscarriages.

In addition, receiving abortion pills by mail may be short-lived. The Texas legislature has advanced a bill criminalizing mailing abortion pills in Texas — and decreasing the legal time from from 10 to 7 weeks to have a medication abortion. The bill focuses on the provider and would — like SB 8 — enable private citizens to report anyone helping provide an abortion.