Illegal abortion pills (still) allowed to be advertised, despite risk

Illegal abortion pills (still) allowed to be advertised, despite risk ( Anna Shvets/Pexels)

It’s an ongoing saga. Yet again, we are seeing Facebook allow abortion providers to advertise for and post about getting abortion pills online while taking down advertisements and locking accounts of pro-life users. 

Shady abortion pill providers have numerous pages for women all over the world on Facebook. There’s groups to talk about home abortion remedies where pill providers will often jump in the comments to say “DM sent” or “DM me” or give out their WhatsApp number. 



Other pages offer abortion pills from private providers who got the pills from who knows where and often include what look like stock photos of misoprostol or Cytotec pills. 



In fact, some abortion pill providers have tried to follow the Abortion Pill Reversal social media pages or pro-life support groups, looking for places to sell their drugs. While the pages and groups can be reported and shut down for illegal or harmful content, they of course pop right back up; or sometimes are never taken down to begin with, even when reported. 

However, Facebook is not the only place abortion providers get away with providing abortion pills illegally.  

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In the U.S., it is against FDA guidelines to use the abortion pill procedure (mifepristone+misoprostol) past 10 weeks after the first day of the woman’s last period. 

Additionally, because mifepristone can have serious side effects, they are not legal to buy and sell online in the U.S. Still, that doesn’t mean it is not happening.

One U.S. website gives women ideas for how to get abortion pills without a prescription, pointing to websites that offer them without a script. A small study was done showing how easy it was to get abortion drugs illegally by buying them online, and studying the quality of the drugs they got and the security of the process. The authors noted several concerning facts: 

“None of these sites required a prescription or any medical documents. Two required completion of an online medical history questionnaire; none of the questions asked about gestational age or any of the specific contraindications listed on the label for Mifeprex®, the brand of mifepristone approved for abortion by the US Food and Drug Administration...The products received rarely appeared to be the same brand as those ordered, and none came with instructions for use.” 

Other websites, like Plan C, specifically instruct women on how to get abortion pills “without clinician support” and in “creative ways” and cite the evidence received from the above study to endorse illegally buying abortion pills. They even have a hotline for women with questions on the “legal risks” of breaking the law.

Even abortion providers and proponents frame “safe” at-home abortions as possible only when women have information on how to take the drugs correctly, what side effects to look out for, and when in-person medical attention may be needed — But they then turn around and support vendors who will sell women pills without any instructions or without any medical oversight or screening! 

For example, the Plan C website links to online abortion pill providers and to a website on how to use abortion drugs

The website they point to on how to use abortion drugs lists as a guide for their information the National Abortion Federation’s (NAF) 2018 Clinical Policy Guidelines to Abortion Care

While the NAF’s guidelines do state out-of-clinic-setting medical abortions can be done, they also include stringent guidelines for medical abortions, such as having an initial evaluation where relevant medical history is gathered, confirming pregnancy and verifying gestational age, giving the patient information on side effects and risks, letting the patient know the abortion could fail and a surgical procedure may be necessary, and offering written and oral instructions for using the drugs at home that list risks and side effects. 

None of these illegal online abortion salespeople are following any of the above guidelines lists!

At Heartbeat International's Option Line and the APR hotline, we have witnessed firsthand how the lack of instruction with these online providers harms women. 

Women call us with all sorts of questions, from how to use the pills because the ones they got in the mail had no instructions, to how to know when the bleeding is too much and they need to see a doctor. 

They reach out to us because — to absolutely no one’s surprise — they cannot reach out and get medical help from the vendor they bought the pills from! They have no idea who to turn to for help. 

Tweet This: Women who've gotten abortion pills from illicit online providers will call Option Line with questions because they've been left with no help

Multiple studies have shown that at-home abortions carry risks, perhaps even higher than surgical abortions in some cases (like having no medical oversight).

Tweet This: Multiple studies have shown that at-home abortions carry risks, perhaps even higher than surgical abortion- like having no medical oversight

These vendors and the pretty pro-choice websites and social media pages supporting them are putting women at risk for serious complications. And yet their websites and social media pages are allowed to stay up and running, even though many are clearly violating the FDA guidelines in their advertising.

On the flip side, Facebook will take down ads by pro-life organizations and other social media platforms will censor pro-life people. 

The NAF guidelines even go so far as to state as optional to tell clients interested in medical abortion that “As appropriate, patients may be informed that no evidence-based way to reverse mifepristone exists.” 

Interestingly, the term “evidence-based” usually means a practice that has published results, the results are consistent, the methodology is scientifically sound, and there are implementation guidelines. Abortion pill reversal meets all these requirements, with ongoing research happening to further establish the veracity of the process.

The bias is clear. Pro-choice people can get away with saying or advertising pretty much anything they want on social media, because, in their worldview, typically shared by these tech platforms, abortion is a default good option, abortion is healthcare, and abortion serves to uphold women’s rights. None of the underlying assumptions for any of these conclusions are questioned, and if they are questioned or spoken out against, then it’s just pro-life propaganda, right? 

Except it’s not pro-life marketing encouraging women to break the law or putting women’s lives at risk by withholding medical information.

Tweet This: Pro-life advocates are not encouraging women to break the law or putting women’s lives at risk by withholding medical information.

Editor's note: Heartbeat International manages the Abortion Pill Rescue® Network (APRN), Option Line, and Pregnancy Help News.

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