Our right to an abortion as we know it is protected by the 1973 ruling of Roe v. Wade, but as we’ve discussed before, accessing abortion doesn’t look the same for everyone. In fact, Texas has the most cities that are 100 miles or more from an abortion clinic of any state, which means many of us can only access abortion if we have the financial and logistical means to do so. (Some states only have one abortion clinic). For folks living in abortion deserts, where access is severely restricted, accessing abortion on the Web through self-managed abortion has been the silver lining to a hostile and politicized landscape in regard to this essential form of reproductive healthcare. Abortion on the Web has allowed people to take control of their bodily autonomy in ways they wouldn’t otherwise be able to, but self-managing an abortion carries legal risks that everyone should keep in mind. In this blog, we’ll discuss why self-managed abortion is legally risky, what those legal risks are, how to find support regarding self-managed abortion, and where you can learn more about it.
Self-managed medication abortion is safe, but it’s legally risky
Having an abortion—including self-managing an abortion—is completely legal, but other legislation in place is misused and weaponized against pregnant people in order to criminalize abortion and set a precedent that would allow our government to enact more anti-choice restrictions. This is because states successfully implementing anti-choice legislation can lead to the Supreme Court revisiting our right to an abortion as protected by Roe v. Wade. For years, legislation designed to protect pregnant people from violence—which in most states explicitly excludes our own choice to have an abortion—-has been used to criminalize and prosecute people who’ve experienced miscarriage and stillbirth in pregnancy on the dubious basis that they “caused it.”
Jill E. Adams, executive director of If/When/How: Lawyering, explains that while most of the time judges will determine the law in question doesn’t apply, at that point, people have already been subjected to public scrutiny and their privacy violated. “Populations and communities under surveillance and on the receiving end of disproportionate state violence” are also most at risk of criminalization as they’re more likely to utilize self-managed abortion as a result of barriers to abortion care and abortion restrictions.
Self-managed abortion, which typically involves using the medications mifepristone and/or misoprostol to induce uterine contractions, is proven to be safe and effective when people have access to the information they need. Many providers in states without telemedicine restrictions can already provide virtual guidance to patients and send the necessary medications through the mail. But while having an abortion is technically not a crime, and rather a constitutional right, it’s important to know purchasing abortion medication online is still considered illegal, and some states it is explicitly illegal. However, no one has yet been prosecuted for doing so.
There’s help to guide you when it comes to abortion on the Web
When learning about self-managed abortion, it’s important to find factual, evidence-based information. That’s why organizations like If/When/How and the M+A Hotline provide support nationwide to folks who want help learning about this topic.
If/When/How’s Legal Helpline provides legal information—not advice—to people over phone or text. Their experts can help you learn about federal law, state law, and everything you need to know when it comes to researching the legality surrounding self-managed abortion. It’s important to protect yourself when it comes to learning about this topic, and it’s often recommended that you use a secured and encrypted texting platform like Signal or WhatsApp, and a VPN when browsing websites involving self-managed abortion. This ensures your search history and private information shared over the internet is more secure—since platforms like Facebook and Instagram can store your information about pregnancy and abortion, and your phone company may store your text messages. Implementing measures like these reduces the legal risk involved in researching this topic.
The M+A Hotline is a confidential service provided by volunteer doctors who offer support to people experiencing a miscarriage or self-managing an abortion. This particular resource is especially helpful as people may feel intimidated about seeking medical care in these instances, and it’s extremely important to be aware of signs of complications should any arise. People can call or text volunteers directly or navigate the evidence-based information provided on the website.
Make sure you’re visiting reputable websites
When it comes to learning about self-managed abortion, you’ll want to make sure you’re visiting websites you can trust. Resources like Aid Access, Plan C, and Women on Web are excellent places to start, and depending on where you live you may find one more helpful than another. Read below for a summary of what to expect from each website.
Dutch physician Dr. Rebecca Gomperts provides medication abortions over the internet through her organization, Aid Access. Unlike states in the U.S., where mandatory ultrasounds and several in-person visits are often required, Aid Access provides medication abortion through a telehealth visit Dr. Gomperts; support and guidance is available for patients during and after the process, too. Aid Access provides services on a sliding scale basis, too, to ensure folks who are impacted by financial hardship and other barriers to abortion care can still access the care they need.
Plan C serves as a report card when it comes to assessing evidence-based information surrounding self-managed abortion. People often visit this website to learn facts about self managed abortion, where to read more information about abortion medications, and to know who they can trust when navigating this information.
Women on Web
Although the United States is hostile to abortion, in other countries abortion can be even more restricted or prohibited entirely. Women on Web serves mainly as a guide for people who live in areas—such as the Philippines—where abortion is not only inaccessible, but outlawed. The website offers services to help people outside the U.S. access a medication abortion through the mail, and it serves as a guide for folks who may be able to access abortion medication unconventionally, but are unsure how to use it.
Important things to remember
- Healthcare providers are not required to report or disclose to any agencies or entities if they suspect someone has self-managed an abortion. In fact, those who do are likely violating protected privacy laws.
- The medication used in self-managed abortion (mifepristone and misoprostol) is not detectable through medical testing at an emergency room.
- While purchasing abortion medications online is illegal, no one has been arrested for doing so.
- Encrypted texting platforms and a VPN when discussing and researching legally risky topics is recommended
*At Austin Women’s Health Center, your health and safety is our top priority, and we encourage patients to access abortion with a licensed provider inside a medical facility. The information in this blog is not medical advice, and we do not encourage prospective patients at Austin Women’s Health Center to self-manage an abortion instead of contacting us. The details outlined in this blog serve as an informational guide with resources from experts on the matter.