On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration said it had launched an investigation into a website created to ship abortion pills to women in the U.S., potentially jeopardizing an avenue for women to gain access to this highly effective and safe method of terminating unwanted pregnancies.
The website, called Aid Access, was created by Women on Web founder Rebecca Gomperts, who told the Atlantic on Thursday that the new group had already shipped abortion pills to 600 women. Aid Access requires women to fill out a consultation form online stating that they are no more than nine weeks pregnant. If they pass the online screening, Gomperts, a doctor who specializes in abortions, writes them a prescription for mifepristone and misoprostol and then mails the pills to them.
The FDA investigation, as first reported by the Daily Beast, was prompted due to the site’s sale of mifepristone. Mifepristone is one of two pills—the other being misprostol—which, when both taken, can induce an abortion. “Mifepristone, including Mifeprex, for termination of pregnancy is not legally available over the Internet,” the FDA said in a statement to Gizmodo. It added: “The agency takes the allegations related to the sale of mifepristone in the U.S. through online distribution channels very seriously and is evaluating the allegations to assess potential violations of U.S. law.” The FDA also shared a link to its Mifeprex website, which includes a big, red disclaimer at the bottom on why you shouldn’t buy the drug online.
The FDA further said in its statement that it had determined that a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS)—its drug safety program enforcing safe use of certain medications—“is necessary to ensure the safe use of Mifeprex,” a brand-name version of mifepristone. It stated that only approved healthcare providers can directly supply the drug, and that it can only be dispensed in certain health care settings including “clinics, medical offices and hospitals, by or under the supervision of a certified prescriber.”
We reached out to Aid Access and Women on Web for comment and will update when we hear back.
Gomperts told the Atlantic that Aid Access is legal on the grounds that the FDA allows the importation of medicine for personal use. Mifeprex has been FDA-approved since 2000, and the medications reportedly induce abortions 95 percent to 98 percent of the time. And they are proven to be safe.
“Our findings corroborate those from a growing number of studies indicating that women can safely and effectively use medication abortion on their own with minimal clinical supervision,” Daniel Grossman, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California at San Francisco, said when announcing the results of a study on the safety of abortion pills.