People rally in support of abortion rights in Kansas City, Missouri, on Saturday. [Photo/Agencies]
Since the US Supreme Court overturned the federal constitutional right to abortion, demand for medical abortions, done with pills and without the help of a doctor, has risen, an abortion-pill advocacy group says.
"We have heard from abortion pill providers that they have seen an increase in requests, especially for getting pills now to have on hand just in case," said Elisa Wells, co-founder of Plan C. "We saw traffic (on our website) surge to 209,000 visitors on the day of the decision, up from 3,400 the day before."
The court's ruling on June 24 immediately created uncertainty about how women could get access to terminations, particularly in states where "trigger laws" took immediate effect after the court's ruling, including Alabama, Kentucky and Utah.
Medication abortion, also known as plan C, is an abortion done with pills that a woman can take without the help of a doctor. However, about 19 states have laws that require a clinician to be present as she takes the medication.
To make the pills work, two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, are needed. Mifepristone works by blocking the hormone progesterone, needed for a successful pregnancy. Misoprostol is taken one to two days later and empties the uterus. Misoprostol alone can be used if mifepristone is unavailable.
Last year the Food and Drug Administration removed the longstanding requirement that a woman must obtain mifepristone in person.
In the US abortion pills are widely available with a prescription from a doctor or from an online pharmacy. They are safe and effective, studies show. Under federal law, the pills can then be delivered directly to where a person lives.
The pills, approved by the FDA for 20 years, work to terminate a pregnancy of up to 10 weeks. They also work beyond the 10-week mark, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says.
The pills are 95 to 98 percent effective in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. They cost from $40 to $750, Planned Parenthood says. But their effectiveness reduces with gestation time.
Women who want to terminate an abortion later in their term can take the pills accompanied by a doctor.
In 2020 at least 54 percent of all abortions were done with pills, not surgery, the research organization the Guttmacher Institute says. About 90 percent of abortions take place in the 13 weeks after a woman becomes pregnant.
Plan C offers an online US map showing which states have telehealth abortions. It says that women in states with restrictive abortion laws are gaining access to pills in a variety of ways, including buying from other states and getting it delivered.
"It is essential that people know that they can still access medication abortion pills by mail in all states," Wells said.
Some women have been choosing to get the pills from abroad without a prescription. Aid Access, an international telemedicine abortion provider founded by Rebecca Gomperts, a Dutch physician, said it will continue to mail pills to women in all US states.
Several Republican states, including Kentucky, Oklahoma, Texas and Tennessee, want to restrict access to abortion pills further. President Joe Biden has pledged that he would work to ensure women have access to medication abortions nationwide.